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Strides Made in 2014 Toward a World Free of MS

December 4, 2014

Significant research progress occurred in 2014, offering new leads that are driving efforts to stop MS in its tracks, restore function, and end MS forever. The National MS Society believes that accelerated research breakthroughs will help people with MS to live their best lives while we move closer to a world free of MS. The Society continues to pursue all promising paths to uncover solutions for everyone with MS, wherever those opportunities exist, while focusing on three priority areas: progressive MS, nervous system repair, and wellness/lifestyle.

The results of previous Society investments continue to mount in 2014, and we are committed to growing our research funding even further over time. In 2014 the Society invested $50.2 million in 380 new and ongoing research projects and initiatives. Here is a brief summary of significant 2014 research progress and initiatives, including links to details. 

STOPPING MS

  • A team funded by the Society shed new light on immune cells known as macrophages, discovering a way to tell the difference between good and bad types of these immune cells during MS-like disease in mice. If it holds true for people with MS, this opens up possibilities for therapies that target bad cells and spare good cells.
  • The FDA approved Plegridy™ (peginterferon beta-1a, Biogen Idec) for people with relapsing forms of MS. This is designed to maintain the effects of interferon in the body longer than first-generation interferons. Read more about this and other studies on emerging therapies from the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.
  • The FDA approved a less frequent, new dose of Copaxone® (glatiramer acetate, Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries, Ltd.) injected under the skin three times per week, at double the standard dose, for relapsing MS.
  • The FDA approved Lemtrada™ (alemtuzumab, Genzyme, a Sanofi Company) as a therapy generally reserved for people with relapsing forms of MS who have had an inadequate response to two or more MS therapies. It is given as 2 courses of IV infusions one year apart.
  • African Americans with MS were found to have more visual impairment and faster thinning of the nerve fibers in the back of the eye than Caucasians with MS, in a multicenter study.
  • The MS Outcome Assessments Consortium established data standards and is leveraging clinical trials data from at least 16,000 patients to develop a new FDA-approved tool for measuring effectiveness of treatments in MS clinical trials.
  • The Society collaborated with ECTRIMS on the International Advisory Committee on Clinical Trials in MS, which published consensus for fine-tuning descriptions of MS and convened an international workshop on using vision-related measures to track MS.

Progressive MS:

  • A phase II, placebo-controlled clinical trial of high-dose oral simvastatin (a medication used for high cholesterol) involving 140 people with secondary-progressive MS suggested that this pill was able to slow the rate of brain tissue loss over two years.
  • An international team funded by the Society found that levels of vitamin D in serum early in the course of MS may be predictive of later disease activity and progression.
  • The International Progressive MS Alliance awarded its first round of 22 research grants with the goal of removing barriers to developing treatments for progressive MS – the start of an ambitious program that will invest at least $30 million over six years.
  • The Society is funding clinical trials of nervous system-protecting approaches including a phase II clinical trial of ibudilast in 250 people with progressive MS. Read more
  • Innate Immunotherapeutics leveraged National MS Society commercial seed funding to launch a clinical trial of a treatment for progressive MS.
  • The Society partnered with Glialogix, Inc. to advance an oral form of a neuroprotective therapy for progressive MS.

Lifestyle/Wellness:

  • Society-funded researchers at Dartmouth published findings in mice related to how gut bacteria may be able to modulate immune attacks in MS. If results are confirmed, it may lead to a strategy that “resets” the immune system to stop immune attacks in MS.
  • Living well with MS includes managing symptoms that interfere with daily life: A small study found that 38% of people recently diagnosed with MS had bladder abnormalities and early indicators of possible walking impairment, suggesting the need for early detection. Read more about this and other studies from the CMSC/ACTRIMS meeting.
  • Previous studies suggest that smoking can increase the risk of getting MS and the risk of progression; researchers in the U.K. found that for every year that passed after a person with MS stopped smoking, the risk for progression was reduced by as much as five percent. Read more about this and other studies from the AAN meeting.
 

RESTORING WHAT’S BEEN LOST

Nervous System Repair:

  • A small phase I clinical trial at Cleveland Clinic tested the ability of an individual’s own mesenchymal stem cells to inhibit immune mechanisms and augment intrinsic tissue repair processes when infused into the veins of people with relapsing forms of MS. Results suggested that this approach was safe and warrants a phase 2 trial, which is now in planning stages.
  • Results were published from two phase I safety trials of Biogen Idec’s BIIB033 (anti-LINGO monoclonal antibody, an exploratory treatment aimed at repairing myelin). No serious adverse events were reported. Phase II trials are underway.
  • A team supported by the Society at University of California at San Francisco identified compounds approved by the FDA for various disorders that might also stimulate myelin repair. A clinical trial stemming from this approach is now underway.
  • Researchers in California and Sweden identified a molecule – called “Contactin-1” – which is crucial to myelin formation and represents a novel target for a myelin repair strategy in people with MS.
  • A team of researchers at The New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute derived stem cells from the skin of people with primary-progressive MS, and induced them to become myelin-making cells. The cells repaired myelin when transplanted into mice; the potential for use in MS remains to be seen.
  • Infusions of stem cells derived from placenta (a formulation known as “PDA-001” manufactured by Celgene Cellular Therapeutics) were shown to be safe in a small, phase I study of 16 people with relapsing-remitting or secondary-progressive MS. The next step, a proof-of-concept clinical trial, is planned.
  • The Society is supporting 15 research projects exploring various types of stem cells, including cells derived from bone marrow, fat and skin.
  • Canbex leveraged Society commercial seed funding to gain additional funding to launch a clinical trial of a novel Cannabis-like treatment for MS spasticity.

Lifestyle/Wellness:

  • In a large sleep study that surveyed more than 2,300 people with MS, researchers found that 70% reported having at least one sleep disorder, but that 12% or fewer had received a diagnosis of, or treatment for, a sleep disorder. Treating sleep disorders experienced by people with MS could significantly improve quality of life.
  • In a study of 109 women with MS, researchers pinpointed an area of the brain with reduced tissue volume; this reduction was linked to high levels of depression.
  • Society-funded researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham used constraint-induced movement therapy (immobilizing a favored arm, forcing the weaker arm to do exercises and skilled movements) in 20 people with progressive MS, showing that weakness improved and brain tissue increased significantly. A larger trial is underway.
  • A 2013 clinical trial showed strong evidence that a specific type of memory training improves learning in people with MS and benefits other aspects of quality of life. In 2014, the researchers published results of a pilot study, in which they show that clinical and MRI improvements were maintained six months after training ended.
  • Brown University researchers found promise in a preliminary study of a salsa dance program for people with MS, seeing improvements in gait and balance even three months after the 4-week program ended. The Society is now funding the team to conduct a larger, longer study that may lead to the use of dance as physical therapy for MS.
  • The Society is supporting 9 Mentor-Based Postdoctoral Fellowships in Rehabilitation Research to provide high-quality training and grow capacity for research on improving wellness and function for people with MS.
  • A University of Illinois team funded by the Society showed that video-chat sessions with a behavior change coach could improve the results of a six-month physical activity program. A larger study is in progress.
  • The Society convened a Wellness Strategy Meeting with leaders in the fields of diet, exercise and psychology, including individuals who also directly live with MS, to identify gaps in knowledge and programming and to map out next steps for how these gaps might best be addressed.
 

ENDING MS FOREVER

  • In studies involving over 80,000 people, the International MS Genetics Consortium has now identified more than 159 genetic variations related to MS; this Society-funded effort and additional genetics research were reported at ACTRIMS/ECTRIMS meeting.
  • Collaborators at Yale, MIT, Harvard and elsewhere reported a new approach to understand how subtle changes in genes may lead to the risk of developing MS and other immune diseases, promising new insights for interrupting the MS disease process.
  • Cutting-edge genomic research earned Philip De Jager, MD, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard, the 2014 Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS Research. He has played a role in nearly every key gene discovery and advancement over the past decade.
  • Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College reported additional findings related to epsilon toxin. They previously reported evidence of this toxin in a woman newly diagnosed with MS. New findings show that the toxin causes nerve damage in mice similar to MS.
  • The MS Prevalence Workgroup convened by the Society met with the Centers for Disease control and has identified strategies to determine how many people in the U.S. have MS.
  • The Society continued substantial support of a DNA Bank at the University of California at San Francisco, which links to a sophisticated database of clinical, demographic and lab data and is key to the search for MS genes, biomarkers and new therapies.

Lifestyle/Wellness:

  • Researchers in Sweden and California showed that adolescent obesity increased risk for MS, and this risk increased substantially in those with specific immune genes.
  • Harvard researchers looked at outcomes in women who had tried five popular diets, and found that none were associated with higher or lower risk of developing MS. Read more about this and other studies from the ACTRIMS/ECTRIMS meeting.
  • Investigators found that those who reported taking cod liver oil at ages 13-18 had nearly half the risk of developing MS compared to those who never took cod liver oil or took it at other ages. Read more about this and other studies from ACTRIMS/ECTRIMS.

This has been a year of significant research progress, bringing us closer to solutions for everyone with MS. Looking ahead, the Society is committed to fueling research by increasing its annual investment to over $52 million in 2015 – because understanding and ending MS can’t come fast enough.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

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