editor caught up with Bruce Bebo, Ph.D, National MS Society’s Executive Vice President of Research, to learn more about some of the developments he’s most excted about for 2019.
: What new therapies are the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considering this year?
The FDA will soon make decisions about whether to approve at least two potential new therapies for MS.
The first is a drug called Siponimod
. It’s shown promise for treating people with secondary progressive MS (SPMS), which is exciting as few treatment options currently exist for SPMS. We’re excited to see a potential new treatment on the horizon. It is a significant milestone in our unrelenting search for treatments that can benefit adults living with secondary progressive MS who currently have few options.
The other treatment option is called Cladribine
and has been approved in other parts of the world as Mavenclad. It is an oral therapy that targets relapsing-remitting MS. As we know, MS symptoms
are a result of the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking the myelin sheath, a protective layer that surrounds nerve fibers. Damage to myelin disrupts the effective transmission of nerve signals and can lead to permanent damage to the nerves. The immune system can damage myelin by directing immune cells (white blood cells or lymphocytes), called T- and B-cells, in the brain and spinal cord to attack the myelin sheath.
Mavenclad works by reducing the number of B-cells and T-cells that are circulating in the bloodstream. It can interfere with DNA repair and replication in T- and B-cells, leading to cell death. This results in fewer cells available to cause the damaging immune response.
Having more treatment options is so important, since it’s been shown that early and ongoing treatment can greatly reduce disease activity and progression over the long term.
: What else should we keep an eye on in 2019?
: Bone marrow stem cell transplants
are showing promise. Recently, studies about hematopoietic (blood cell-producing) stem cell therapies were published – and we have further research in the works to learn more. This has the potential to be a life-changing breakthrough for people living with MS, and I’m excited to see progress in the field of cell-based therapies.
Additionally, we’re looking at quality of life
advancements. More than ever, we’re seeing new evidence that there are things people with MS can do right now to impact their disease and quality of life. Research suggests that taking care of yourself – being more active, eating better, addressing mood changes like depression and anxiety, having basic health screenings for things like cholesterol and blood pressure – can reduce symptoms and maybe even slow the progression of MS.
: Can you share a preview of the new research related to the number of people living with MS in the United States?
: To address the gap in prevalence estimates, the Society launched the MS Prevalence Initiative
with the goal of determining the best way to develop a scientifically sound and economically feasible estimate of the number of people in the U.S. who have MS. Preliminary results of the study estimate that nearly 1 million people are living with MS in the U.S., which is more than twice the previously reported number. The results were presented in October 2017 at ECTRIMS
— the world’s largest MS research meeting.
An important next step in confirming this prevalence number includes anticipated publication in a prominent medical journal. Once this information is published, the Society will use the information to help drive funding, research, donations and so much more. Stay tuned!