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.
Finding Solutions for Progressive MS
In progressive stages of MS, there are few or no relapses, and few or no recovery or remission periods when major symptoms improve. Some of the burning questions that are being addressed through research include:
• What factors influence the transition from relapsing stages of MS to progressive MS?
• Can the disease-modifying therapies prevent, delay, or slow long-term MS progression?
• What new therapies will stop progressive MS?
• What causes degeneration of nerve fibers—thought to be the cause of long-term disability—and how can that be stopped or reversed?
Driving treatment solutions
A common question is, “Why aren’t there more treatments for progressive MS?” Virtually every therapy approved for relapsing MS has been tested, or is now in testing, in people with progressive forms of the disease. Clinical trials involving people with relapsing MS often rely on counting relapses or doing MRI scans to detect immune activity. Progression is less easily measured, and usually happens over long periods of time. This important difference makes it hard to quickly detect whether a therapy is impacting progression, and thus has made therapy development for progressive MS a challenge.
But the landscape is changing, thanks in part to National MS Society investments and collaborations:
- The FDA approved Ocrevus™ (ocrelizumab - Genentech, a member of the Roche Group) for the treatment of primary progressive MS or relapsing MS, based on clinical trials showing significant benefits against MS relapses and progression. The Society funded early research that laid the groundwork for this first therapy specifically approved for primary progressive MS.
- A phase III clinical trial of the experimental oral therapy siponimod (BAF312, Novartis Pharmaceuticals AG) involving 1,651 people with secondary progressive MS met its primary endpoint of reducing the risk of disability progression compared with inactive placebo. Secondary endpoints suggested that those on active therapy had less decrease of brain tissue volume. The therapy was generally well tolerated and similar to adverse events reported for similar compounds.
- The Society is funding several clinical trials of nervous system-protecting approaches:
- Determining whether a biomarker can monitor the benefits of oxcarbazepine (epilepsy therapy) in people with secondary-progressive MS
- The MS-SMART trial is testing three therapies that may have nerve-protecting properties in secondary-progressive MS (with the MS Society of the U.K.)
- Results of a phase 2 trial of oral ibudilast (MN-166, MediciNova, Inc.) in people with progressive forms of MS suggested it significantly slowed the rate of brain atrophy (shrinkage), which has been linked to cognitive and physical disability in MS.
- A multicenter trial in the UK is testing whether a repurposed cholesterol-lowering therapy can slow the course of secondary progressive MS, with funding from the Society, the National Institutes for Health Research (UK) and the UK MS Society.
- Large clinical trials are ongoing in progressive MS, including tests of masitinib and high-dose biotin (MD1003, MedDay Pharmaceuticals SA).
- The Progressive MS Alliance is bringing together the world’s leading experts in multiple sclerosis to change the world for people with progressive MS. In 2017, work began on the Collaborative Network Awards, multi-year grants that fuel international networks of researchers and institutions, working together to make crucial breakthroughs in understanding and treating progressive MS.
- More than 30 studies investigating benefits of exercise, rehabilitation and other non-pharmaceutical strategies to enhance wellness, and address other symptoms that can interfere with quality of life. The Society has launched a wellness initiative to develop strategies for increasing high-quality research and programming so people with MS can make informed lifestyle and wellness choices that help them live their best lives.
Understanding what drives progression and how to stop it
Researchers are exploring mechanisms that drive injury to the brain and spinal cord to expose new potential therapeutic targets along the injury pathways that may stop the damage. These include:
- Large-scale studies tracking people with MS to identify factors that contribute to progression risk.
- Advanced imaging and laboratory studies seeking to define and track the full measure of MS disease activity, MS lesions, and atrophy (shrinkage) in the brain and spinal cord.
- Exploring the potential of different types of stem cells to repair the nervous system in models of the disease, and ways to enhance the survival of repair cells in inflamed and scarred nerve tissue.
What are the solutions for people with progressive MS?
We are relentlessly pursuing the answer to this question each and every day. Identifying and moving solutions forward is how we will succeed in stopping the progression of MS.