Drug Dramatically Cuts Progress Of MS: Trial
Thomas Moore, Health Correspondent
Doctors have unveiled “game-changing” results that show for the first time that a drug can significantly slow the worsening of multiple sclerosis.
Three major studies of the drug ocrelizumab show that it reduces the number of relapses, and delays disability caused by the neurological disease.
Around 100,000 people in the UK have MS, which affects nerves in the brain and spinal cord, causing problems with muscle movement, balance and vision.
Existing treatments only have a limited effect on the progress of the disease.
But ocrelizumab was found to have a dramatic effect on both the relapsing-remitting and primary progressive forms of the disease.
It is the first time a drug has been shown to have a positive effect in a large clinical trial of primary progressive MS, which affects between 10-15% of MS patients.
Dr Klaus Schmierer, a consultant neurologist at The Royal London Hospital, said: "People with primary progressive MS and clinicians alike have been eagerly waiting for an effective treatment to slow the path of relentless deterioration.
“This is great news for everybody affected by MS, and society as a whole.”
Ocrelizumab selectively targets B-cells, one of two forms of immune cells that are thought to cause degeneration of nerve cells, resulting in symptoms.
Results presented to the European Committee for Treatment Research in Multiple Sclerosis show the drug reduced the rate of clinical disability in primary progressive MS by 24%.
And in the relapsing-remitting form of the disease, it halved the frequency of relapses and was more effective at delaying the onset of disability than interferon, one of the main drugs currently used for MS.
The manufacturers, Roche, are now expected to apply for a medicines licence from the regulatory authorities.
The watchdog, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), will then assess whether it is cost effective for use on the NHS.
Professor Gavin Giovannoni, of Barts and The London School of Medicine, said: "The results are a game changer for the clinical community.
“The important next step is for regulators to enable … treatment to be provided as soon after diagnosis as possible to provide optimal outcomes, with the potential to improve patients’ quality of life in the long-term.”
Former British jazz pianist of the year Craig Milverton has been taking the drug since 2012.
He has primary progressive MS and with his fingers beginning to go numb and his condition worsening by the month he feared he may have to stop playing.
But from the very first infusion he noticed the difference
“It seems to have kept me stable,” he told Sky News.
"I did not notice anything getting any worse.
"I can happily say now that I have not deteriorated since I started taking the drug.
“So it has been amazing for me because I really thought my career was over.”
The MS Society’s Executive Director for Policy and Research Nick Rijke said the results were a “big moment” in the search for an effective treatment.
“These phase three trial results will provide a great deal of hope for people with primary progressive MS, who currently don’t have any treatments available that can slow down the worsening of their condition,” he said.
"So far only the top line results from this trial have been announced, so we look forward to seeing the full details with great anticipation.
“We hope such an encouraging outcome will stimulate further progress in beating this disease.”