MS Research Roundup: November 11, 2014
Repurposing Older, Cheaper Drugs in Britain; Plovamer Acetate Pulled From Pipeline; Singing for a (Healthier) Supper; Seeking Earlier MS Diagnosis
MS Research Roundup collects items of interest to multiple sclerosis researchers from around the Web. Send us your tips: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pressure Rises in U.K. to Repurpose a Statin for MS
Several neurologists and MS organizations in the United Kingdom wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph calling for Members of Parliament to make it easier to license an off-patent drug for a different condition. The signatories cited a promising phase 2 trial published earlier this year in The Lancet showing that a high dose of simvastatin, a cholesterol-lowering agent, reduced brain atrophy in patients with secondary progressive MS, which has no effective treatment. In a front-page story, the MS Society challenged Members of Parliament to cut the “nonsensical” red tape by supporting a proposed bill. If a phase 3 trial shows that simvastatin works in more people with MS, the letter reasons, it would require a license to qualify for reimbursement from the National Health Service, a key step in making it widely available to people with MS. Repurposing inexpensive, off-patent drugs has been something of a political struggle for MS researchers and advocacy organizations for some time. One of the signatories, Gavin Giovannoni, MBBCh, Ph.D., and his colleagues at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry have been blogging about the economic and political barriers and what MS researchers and advocacy groups need to do to clear them. Other major issues include who will pay for a phase 3 clinical trial and take responsibility for licensing and monitoring safety after approval. (MS Research blog, The Lancet, Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail, MS Research blog, MS Society)
Going, Going, … Gone
Say goodbye to an experimental compound designed to be a more potent version of the best-selling glatiramer acetate (Copaxone, Teva). Merck Serono has stopped development of plovamer acetate for relapsing-remitting MS midway through a phase 2 study. In a letter to study investigators posted at the MS Research blog, the company cited mostly business reasons: “level of investment, probability of success, time to market and changing market dynamics.” The letter pledged more support for another RRMS product in the pipeline, ATX-MS-1467, as well as expanding the company’s MS portfolio. The trial had enrolled 255 out of an anticipated 550 people, according to a November 4 update to the ClinicalTrials.gov listing that changed the trial status to “active, not recruiting.” In his blog, Giovannoni used the opportunity to advocate for continuing studies of cladribine, another drug Merck Serono pulled out of the development pipeline in 2011 midway through a second phase 3 study and after it was licensed in Australia and Russia. Giovannoni advocates short-term off-label use of cladribine for treating MS in resource-poor environments, using the injectable formulation meant for treating hairy cell leukemia and monitoring low lymphocyte counts. (ClinicalTrials.gov, EMD Serono, Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, MS Research blog)
Lifestyle Takes Center Stage
Singer David Osmond, who was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS in 2006 at age 26, just released a new music video for a song titled “I Can Do This” that is part of an awareness-raising campaign sponsored by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation. David Osmond is the son of Alan Osmond, who also sings, has MS, and is a prominent advocate for people with the disease. Though Osmond takes fingolimod (Gilenya, Novartis), he does not have to talk about the drug as part of the campaign. Instead, Osmond focuses on diet and lifestyle choices. In decades past, people with MS were usually not counseled about making changes to their lifestyle, except to exercise less, because it seemed that exercise exacerbated fatigue symptoms. But the winds appear to be shifting. A recent wave of evidence suggests that exercise can be beneficial to people with MS. More and more research dollars are being poured into understanding lifestyle factors in MS, such as diet, sleep, and exercise. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal looks at how these factors have helped some people with MS. While the article generally relies on anecdotes, it points out that eating well and staying active are known to mitigate depression, a condition that many people with MS suffer from. (Novartis, The Wall Street Journal)
New Project Aims to Improve MS Diagnosis
Researchers at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, recently embarked on a project to discover new tools to enable earlier detection and treatment of MS. The team, headed by Fabrizio Giuliani, M.D., also aspires to improve and develop therapies aimed to stop or even reverse disability. The project is supported by a $1.4 million grant from Biogen Idec and the Alberta government. Giuliani said that he hopes this will be the first of many more projects to advance research in MS. MS rates are higher in Alberta than the rest of Canada, and approximately 14,000 people live with the disease, according to the Edmonton Sun. (CBC News, Edmonton Sun, University of Alberta)
Gavin Giovannoni, MBBCh, Ph.D., is a member of the MSDF Scientific Advisory Board. EMD Serono and National Multiple Sclerosis Society are among MSDF’s funders.