National MS Society Outlines Research for 2012

MS Society logoAt the end of 2011, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society outlined research for the coming year that could potentially change the lives of people living with multiple sclerosis (MS). Among the information presented at a webcast were the following updates:

New therapies – Several late-stage phase III clinical trials in relapsing MS are getting close to seeking marketing approval. These include oral teriflunomide, oral BG-12 and intravenous alemtuzumab. An application was accepted by the FDA to review teriflunomide for marketing approval.

Revised diagnosis criteria – An international panel revised and simplified the McDonald Criteria, criteria commonly used to diagnose MS, which is expected to reduce the wait for a confirmed answer to possible MS symptoms.

Parasitic worms to treat MS? – At least two published studies reported results related to parasitic worms, called helminths, and their possible implications for treating MS. Further study should determine whether a probiotic treatment approach using relatively harmless parasitic worms to alter immune activity will benefit people with MS.

New clinical trials – Several clinical trials will explore progressive forms of MS:

  • A trial by Novartis testing the oral immune modulator fingolimod in primary-progressive MS
  • A trial by Biogen Idec testing the immune modulator natalizumab in secondary-progressive MS
  • An National Institutes of Health (NIH) trial testing the immune modulator rituximab in secondary-progressive MS
  • An NIH trial testing the antioxidant idebenone in primary-progressive MS

International Progressive MS Consortium – This group of MS societies and the MS International Federation met for the first time to establish mutual goals and priorities to drive research and to harness more resources aimed at progressive forms of MS.

Initiative to repair and protect nervous system propelled progress – The Nervous System Repair and Protection Initiative, funded through the National MS Society's Promise: 2010 Campaign, set the stage for translating basic lab discoveries into clinical efforts to restore nerve function in people with MS. The initiative jump-started the field, trained scores of promising young investigators, produced more than 180 research papers and leveraged millions of dollars in new funding.

Botox for urinary incontinence – A new use for Botox was approved, providing an additional treatment option for people with MS or other neurologic disorders who experience urinary incontinence.

MS and pregnancy – Investigators at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, found that adverse pregnancy or birth outcomes did not differ among women with MS compared with women without the disease.

Walking a problem – A survey conducted by Harris Interactive suggested that difficulty walking substantially interferes with activities of daily living and quality of life in a majority of people with MS. Of those who had MS-related walking difficulty, 70 percent called it the most challenging aspect of MS, yet 40 percent of those surveyed "rarely or never" discussed walking problems with their doctors, supporting the need for early recognition and management of mobility problems experienced by people with MS.

MS risk genes identified – The International MS Genetics Consortium and collaborators identified 29 new genetic variants associated with MS and confirmed 23 others previously associated with the disease, verifying a major role for the immune system in the development of MS. The results are now to be confirmed and expanded in an independent, second large-scale set of cases with a research grant from the National MS Society.

Role of vitamin D and sun exposure – Higher levels of sun exposure and higher blood levels of vitamin D were both associated with decreased risk of having a first neurological event that can be the first indicator of MS, according to a large study in Australia.