Published: Thursday, 23 October 2008, 7:40AM
A drug used to treat leukaemia will bring hope to many of the UK’s 100,000 multiple sclerosis sufferers.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine led by Cambridge researchers found a drug called alemtuzumab can stop MS advancing in patients in the early stages of the condition.
MS causes the immune system to attack the protective coating around nerve fibres which prevents messages being transmitted between the brain and other parts of the body.
Symptoms of the disease can include loss of physical skills, sensation, vision, bladder control and intellectual abilities.
A three-year trial of alemtuzumab on MS patients showed it can restore lost function, reversing some of the effects of the condition.
Researchers found patients treated with alemtuzumab were 74 per cent less likely to experience relapses than those taking the leading treatment interferon beta-1a.
The risk of disability was reduced by 71 per cent among those given the new drug, suggesting alemtuzumab may allow damaged brain tissue to repair itself and restore lost nerve function.
Dr Alasdair Coles, lecturer at the university’s Department of Clinical Neurosciences, said: “The ability of an MS drug to promote brain repair is unprecedented. We are witnessing a drug which, if given early enough, might effectively stop the advancement of the disease and also restore lost function by promoting repair of the damaged brain tissue.”
More studies are needed before the drug can be approved for the treatment of MS.
During the three-year trial, 20 per cent of people treated with alemtuzumab developed an over- or under-active thyroid gland, while 3 per cent developed a low platelet count – a complication that led to one fatality.
Researchers said these complications can be easily treated if caught early.
Lee Dunster, head of research at the MS Society, said: “We are delighted that it has reported such positive results. This is the first drug that has shown the potential to halt and even reverse the debilitating effects of MS and this news will rightly bring hope to people living with the condition day in, day out.
Nice to know, but not without it’s own problems