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MS drug may reverse some physical disability

A drug used to treat multiple sclerosis (MS), alemtuzumab, was found to reverse some of the physical disability caused by the disease, according to new research led by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

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Alemtuzumab is used in relapsing-remitting MS, the most common form of the disease, in which symptoms alternate between sudden worsening and remission. Because it can cause serious side effects, the drug is generally used in people who have not responded well to other drugs. In this study, however, it was used relatively early in the course of MS.

Professor Gavin Giovannoni from QMUL’s Blizard Institute said: “While many MS drugs slow the progress of disability, there have been little data about the ability of treatments to help restore function previously lost due to MS.

“We saw improvements in many of our participants who received alemtuzumab treatment, including their mobility, coordination, bladder function and thinking skills. This suggests that the drug effects include restoring function.

“These benefits, however, were seen in patients relatively early on in the course of their disease and need to be confirmed in patients with more advanced MS. These benefits have to be weighed against the drug’s risks, which include serious, and rarely life-threatening, autoimmune problems, as well as infusion reactions and infections.”

In the study, published in Neurology, people with relapsing-remitting MS who did not respond well to at least one other MS drug were treated either with alemtuzumab (426 people) or the drug interferon beta-1a (202 people).
Researchers assessed the participants’ level of disability at the beginning of the study and again every three months for two years.

By the end of the study, nearly 28 percent of those receiving alemtuzumab had improved by at least one point on a disability test, compared to 15 percent of those receiving interferon. People receiving alemtuzumab were 2.5 times more likely to improve on the assessment of thinking skills than those receiving interferon, and were more than twice as likely to improve on the ability to move without tremor or clumsy movements known as ataxia.

The study was supported by Sanofi Genzyme and Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals.

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