Scientists are closer than ever to developing drugs that stop Multiple Sclerosis, but the work needs financial backing, writes Katie Cavanagh of the MS Society
This Christmas, the MS Society’s annual appeal is seeking to raise £250,000 and fund three landmark trials designed to turn existing drugs into treatments for MS. We do this because, by repurposing existing drugs, we can speed up the clinical trials process and get new MS treatments out there much faster.
And with thousands of people still desperate for effective medicine, speed really is of the essence.
Each week about 100 people in the UK are told they have MS. A diagnosis can mean different things to different people, but the initial anxiety felt in that moment is universal. Because while MS is unpredictable and different for everyone, it’s natural to fear the worst.
The condition is often painful and exhausting, and can cause problems with how we walk, move, see, think and feel. Most people are diagnosed in their 20s or 30s – a time when, for many at least, life finally seems to be getting in order.
Thankfully we have reached a critical juncture in treatment, and are closer than ever to stopping MS. Investment in research has dramatically improved diagnosis, led to the development of new treatments, and helped scientists make tremendous breakthroughs. But many people with the condition – those with the progressive form – still don’t have access to any effective treatment.
We now have an exciting and unprecedented opportunity to build on breakthroughs made over the last 20 years. And our Christmas Appeal seeks to make the most of that.
By exploring whether existing drugs for high cholesterol, cancer, heart disease, motor neurone disease and depression can be repurposed to slow the progression of disability in people with MS, we can speed up the clinical trials process and get new treatments to people living with MS faster than if we had to develop brand new medicines.
You’ve probably heard of statins? A common tablet taken to treat high cholesterol, we now believe simvastatin could be an effective treatment for progressive MS.
Bexarotene is another licensed drug, this time for cancer. We know parts of the brain affected by bexarotene are responsible for repairing myelin. A treatment that could repair myelin – the protective coating around nerve cells that is under attack by the immune system in MS – would transform the lives of people living with the condition.
In another trial, three separate drugs used to treat heart disease, depression and motor neurone disease will be investigated to see if they can help in secondary progressive MS. Researchers have already identified that these ‘neuroprotective’ drugs have the potential to protect nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord from damage. Now we need to discover whether they could stop MS.
If successful, all of the above trials could see new, life-changing drugs available to thousands of people. But while each of them carries fantastic promise, trials like this need donations to go ahead.
By contributing to MS research this Christmas, you can help make a difference to the lives of people with MS. The sooner you can help us, the sooner we can put your gift to work where it is needed most. To give, simply visit www.mssociety.org.uk/elf.
Together, we are strong enough to stop MS.
Katie Cavanagh is head of Individual Fundraising at the MS Society