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Progressive MS Research


In this article
The National MS Society is pursuing all promising research paths and collaborating worldwide to drive progress in research in progressive MS, for which few therapies exist.
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The Next Frontier: Understanding and Treating Progressive MS

A panel of experts discusses challenges and potential in progressive MS research during this hour-long webcast.

About progressive MS

Multiple sclerosis is a progressive disease for which no cure has yet been found. Researchers are working to identify new and better strategies to stop that progression.

People with primary-progressive MS experience a slow but nearly continuous worsening of their disease from the onset, with no distinct relapses or remissions. A more common type of progressive MS is secondary-progressive MS, which starts as relapsing-remitting MS and then transitions into a progressive course, with or without occasional relapses.

The National MS Society is pursuing all promising research paths and collaborating worldwide to drive progress in research in progressive MS, for which few therapies exist.

Progressive research questions

Some of the burning questions that are being addressed through research include:

  • What factors influence the transition from a largely relapsing-remitting course with distinct immune attacks to a largely progressive (steadily worsening) course (secondary-progressive MS)?
  • Can the disease-modifying therapies prevent, delay, or slow long-term MS progression?
  • What causes primary-progressive MS, and is it the same (currently unknown) thing that causes more common forms of MS?
  • What new therapies will help people with progressive MS?
  • What causes degeneration of nerve fibers—thought to be the cause of long-term disability experienced by many with MS—and how can that be stopped or reversed?

Progressive MS Alliance

The Progressive MS Alliance is an ever-expanding alliance of organizations from around the world, including  the MS Societies of Italy, UK, USA and the MS International Federation. The purpose  of the Alliance is to work together to connect resources and experts around the world to find the answers that will lead to new treatments and ultimately, end progressive MS.

Ending progressive MS is an urgent and unmet need that must be overcome so that people can live their lives without the uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring. The Progressive MS Alliance seeks to connect with and build upon current efforts and accelerate innovative research on progressive MS by enabling global collaboration in building research infrastructure, facilitating knowledge sharing and increasing worldwide funding capacity to drive large-scale global research initiatives. By establishing global research priorities and working together with shared knowledge and focused resources, the potential to succeed is greater than ever before.

Progress to-date

  • 2010: MS Societies from around the globe gather to talk about how to drive solutions for treating progressive MS
  • 2011: Societies continue to build on the momentum from this first meeting to organize a global initiative
  • 2012: The Progressive MS alliance is formed with a goal of leveraging resources to speed progress –Involved organizations include the MS Societies of US, Italy,  Denmark, UK, and MSIF
  • 2013: In the first meeting of its kind, over 170 MS researchers, clinicians and industry partners from around the world gather to discuss key challenges and strategies to expedite treatments for progressive forms of MS, with five focus areas identified including: identifying targets and repurposing opportunities for progressive MS; experimental models for pre-clinical evaluation of therapies; strategies for phase II clinical trials; clinical outcome measures and trial design; symptom management and rehabilitation
  • 2013: The first scientific request for proposals is issued; project awards will be selected and funded in early 2014

National MS Society focus on progressive MS

Our urgency and determination to find solutions for progressive MS encompasses research, programs and services for people with this form of the disease.  And while we strive to help people with progressive MS live their best lives today, we must drive progress through research. Our research portfolio includes $46 million in multi-year funding commitments to 105 research projects addressing aspects relevant to progressive MS.  Some notable projects in our portfolio include:

  • SPRINT-MS:  We are co-funding a unique collaboration between NIH's NeuroNEXT Network, MediciNova and the National MS Society for a 28-site phase II clinical trial (SPRINT-MS) of ibudilast, an oral anti-inflammatory agent, in 250 people with progressive forms of MS. This trial will also test the best ways to measure the benefits of therapies aimed at neuroprotection, which will inform future clinical trials for progressive MS.  It is being led by Robert Fox, MD (Cleveland Clinic Foundation).
  • SUMMIT:  This project seeks to determine the best way to identify factors that influence MS progression. Dr. Howard Weiner (Brigham and Women's hospital) and a team of international collaborators have tested the feasibility of tracking a large cohort of patients over time at multiple medical centers in the US and Europe. They are collecting uniform data (including clinical, MRI, blood, and genetics) and epidemiological information. The consortium has shown this is a feasible study, and has received another year of funding to extend data collection, to extend the analysis of possible MRI findings and biomarkers that predict progression, and to allow for replication and validation.
  • MSOAC: The Society has enlisted the Critical Path Institute (C-Path) to develop a better tool for measuring MS progression with an eye toward speeding the development of new treatments for MS.  The "MS Outcomes Assessment Consortium” (MSOAC) is analyzing aggregated data from MS clinical trials to develop a more sensitive clinical tool for evaluating the benefits of treatments on clinical symptoms and progression of MS. C-Path will arrive at a consensus on the optimal components for inclusion in a modified clinical outcome assessment drug development tool, and then advance it to the U.S. FDA and EMA for regulatory approval.