Work under way into multiple sclerosis

01 July 2012

Dr John Woolmore

Dr John Woolmore

New research has begun into the effectiveness of a drug to treat secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS).

Multiple sclerosis is a neurological condition which affects around 100,000 people in the UK and can cause a wide range of symptoms, including fatigue, stiffness and spasms, as well as problems with vision, balance and bladder control.

SPMS is a form of the disease which normally follows relapsing remitting MS (RRMS), and is defined generally as the sustained build up of disability, independent of any relapses.

This compares with RRMS, in which symptoms can worsen (relapse) over a short period but then subside (remit) to previous levels.

Natalizumab has been used in the treatment of RRMS since its approval by the FDA in the United States in 2004, but its effectiveness in treating SPMS remains unproven.

Consultant Neurologist John Woolmore is leading the study at QEHB, which is part of an international, multi-centre trial to test the drug’s effectiveness in reducing the progression of SPMS.

“If it works it would be the first treatment for progressive MS with an evidence base, and it’s a drug we’re very familiar with from treating relapsing remitting MS,” says Dr Woolmore.

“There isn’t disease modifying therapy for progressive MS at the moment, only for relapsing remitting MS, so it could be a big step forward.

“The criteria for the trial are quite strict, but there could be patients being treated by neurologists who don’t know about this trial, so we want to spread the word.”

Dr Woolmore is also working on the TERACLES study, looking at whether a drug called teriflunomide, which is taken as a tablet, improves the remission rate of patients with RRMS when used alongside existing interferon treatments.

The study is a Phase III multinational trial, which means several hospitals around the world are testing its effectiveness following successful earlier trials of its safety and effectiveness in much smaller groups of patients.

“We’re looking at this as an add-on therapy for people who are on interferons and have disease activity, and we’re looking at the relapse rate. There might be a niche for this drug as an add-on.

“This is a very exciting study for patients with relapsing MS, and we’re looking to recruit more patients,” says Dr Woolmore.