What we're doing about progressive MS
Progressive MS is our top research priority and that of the global research community. With new knowledge being gained, new projects funded and clinical trials underway, there’s hope on the horizon.
Find out more
What causes MS progression?
We now understand that damage within the brain and spinal cord accumulates over time, resulting in the worsening of disability. This damage is caused by many factors, including the attack of myelin, the build-up of harmful debris, the loss of functional myelin-making cells and an increase in inflammation.
Over time, this environment causes nerve cells to die (a process called neurodegeneration) and can lead to the permanent accumulation of disability.
We’re learning more and more about how damage is caused in progressive MS. And we can use this knowledge to design new treatments.
Scientists are working on three key areas of research that together they believe can stop MS:
- stopping the immune damage
- promoting myelin repair
- protecting nerves from damage.
There’s also research looking at other aspects of progressive MS, such as improving symptom relief and the support on offer.
Stopping immune damage
We now have over a dozen licensed disease modifying therapies (DMTs) that can modify the behaviour of immune cells to prevent them from attacking myelin. These are mainly effective for relapsing MS but one (ocrelizumab) is licensed for ealy primary progressive MS. Another drug called siponimod is also being tested by people with secondary progressive MS, with early promising results announced in 2016.
We don't expect most "immunomodulatory" drugs to help with progression, however. This is because they stop immune attacks, and so can only help people experiencing active inflmmation. They can't reverse symptoms that are due to progressive nerve loss.
Scientists around the world are developing potential remyelination therapies, which could enhance recovery from relapses and protect nerve fibres from damage.
Myelin repair is a focus of our research programme, and we’re investing in 13 projects that aim to improve repair. This includes our dedicated myelin repair research centre in Cambridge. We are also currently running our first phase 2 clinical trial of a possilbe myelin repair treatment.
Protecting nerves from damage
If we can find drugs that can protect nerves from damage then we have a real opportunity to stop MS getting worse, and even reverse disability for some people. we are currently running a number of clinical trials, including a final stage one testing simvastatin for secondary progressive MS.
Stem cells could potentially change the way the immune system behaves, repair or replace damaged tissue, or protect nerve cells from damage.
Our top research priority
Finding effective treatments for progressive MS is our top research priority and one of the top biomedical areas of focus for our 2013-2017 Research Strategy.
Our top priority, as agreed by people affected by MS and health care professionals, is to find effective treatments to slow, stop or reverse the accumulation of disability associated with MS.
An international effort
We're a member of the Progressive MS Alliance. It’s a network of MS organisations from around the world who have come together to speed up the development of treatments for progressive MS.
By working together, we can achieve more.