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Four Studies to Assess Effectiveness of MS Treatments Receive $19.6 Million in Funding from PCORI

July 19, 2016

-- Studies will give people with MS evidence to help them choose among therapies
 
The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) Board of Governors today approved nearly $20 million to fund four comparative clinical effectiveness research studies that will assess several therapies used to treat multiple sclerosis or its symptoms. 
  
Two studies will compare the benefits and harms of various treatments collectively known as disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) that aim to reduce MS attacks or slow the disease’s progression. Another will evaluate the effectiveness of medications used to treat fatigue, a common, often debilitating problem for people with MS. The fourth will assess whether people with MS in rural and low-income areas can get similar benefits from rehabilitation therapies if they are provided via telephone or the Internet versus in a clinic. 
 
The studies will be designed and conducted with significant input from people with MS, family caregivers, and other healthcare stakeholders. Each will include people with MS; nurses, physicians or other clinicians; or representatives of other stakeholder groups on their research teams. The 4 awards were among 35 totaling $153 million approved today by PCORI’s Board.  
 
"These PCORI awards are a welcome and much-needed infusion of new MS research funding for important real-world questions about treatment strategies and their effectiveness," commented Bruce Bebo, PhD, Executive Vice President, Research, at the National MS Society. "The projects should provide important evidence for the best ways to address troubling symptoms like fatigue, and the potential for using technology to deliver needed rehabilitation approaches to people in remote areas," he added. 

“PCORI is delighted to make these new awards addressing crucial evidence gaps and questions of vital interest to the more than 400,000 people in the U.S. living with multiple sclerosis,” said PCORI Executive Director Joe Selby, MD, MPH. “These studies will provide significant new evidence to help patients, their families and their clinicians decide more confidently which of the therapies available to them will work best given their needs and preferences.”   
 
The four projects approved today are:
  • An $8.5 million study comparing the effectiveness of rituximab, a biologic drug, to other commonly used disease-modifying therapies in individuals with the relapsing-remitting form of the disease. Rituximab is increasingly being used as an MS therapy in Sweden and the United States. The study will be based at Karolinska Institute in Sweden and conducted in collaboration with Kaiser Permanente Southern California. In particular, it will assess the comparative safety outcomes of the medications. 
  • A $5.8 million study of whether patients get as much benefit from an exercise-based rehabilitation program delivered via Internet or telephone as when the therapy is provided in a clinic. Evidence shows that exercise, yoga, and other such therapies can alleviate symptoms and improving function, but clinics that can provide such services are scarce in rural and low-income areas. The trial, led by a research team based at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, will be conducted in Alabama and Mississippi.  
  • A $1.9 million study of three medications frequently used to relieve fatigue in people with MS. There is little evidence about how well these drugs – amantadine, modafinil, and methylphenidate work compared to one another in providing relief for MS-related fatigue. The trial will be led by a team based at the University of California at San Francisco.  
  • A $3.3 million award for the first pragmatic trial comparing the benefits and harms of the oral DMTs fingolimod and dimethyl-fumarate. These drugs are commonly used to treat MS and are believed to be similarly effective, but both have side effects and they have not been compared directly to one another. The trial will be led by a research team based at the Foundation of the Carlo Besta Neurological Institute in Milano, Italy, and include sites in the United States, Europe, and Israel.  
The new studies address evidence gaps and questions that people with MS and other healthcare stakeholders identified as their top priorities through PCORI’s process for topic selection. A multi-stakeholder workshop in April 2015 brought together patients and participants representing groups advancing research on the disease as well as clinicians, government agencies, industry, and health insurance plans to refine the questions that became the focus of PCORI’s funding announcements. 
 
All of the awards are approved pending completion of a business and programmatic review by PCORI staff and issuance of a formal award contract.

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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