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A year of breakthroughs

David Schley

2017 saw a number of firsts in the world of MS research. We’re not there yet, but the last 12 months show stopping MS is within our grasp.

The game changer

The year’s major breakthrough came in November, where the first licensed treatment for progressive MS was approved in Europe. Ocrelizumab (Ocrevus) has been shown to help some people with primary progressive MS, mainly those early on in their condition, as well as those with relapsing forms of MS.

NICE also announced a new treatment for relapsing MS that can be taken as a pill. Cladrabine (Mavenclad) is now available on the NHS in England.

Progress with trials

In spring we started a major final stage phase 3 clinical trial for what could be the first neuroprotective treatment for MS. Hundreds of people with secondary progressive MS will be asked to take part in MS-STAT2, to prove whether simvastatin can slow disability progression.

We’re ‘repurposing’ another drug, bexarotene, to see if it can help repair myelin. Many of the symptoms of MS are a result of nerves losing their protective myelin coating. Finding treatments that help the brain put it back is a vital part of stopping MS. Our Cambridge and Edinburgh centres are looking into it, building on their discoveries made using samples from the MS Society Tissue Bank.

Excitement in the lab

It’s been an exciting year in the lab too. An international collaboration led by Denise Fitzgerald in NI, involving both our centres, showed for the first time how immune cells can repair damage in MS.

We‘re used to thinking of the immune system as the bad guy in MS, because it mistakenly attacks our own nerves. But this work shows we could perhaps harness its powers to support remyelination too.

We expect more breakthroughs in the near future. Last year we invested over £2 million in 13 new world-class research projects. They cover everything from new ways to boost myelin repair to tackling heat sensitivity to finding better ways to screen for cognitive changes in MS.

Looking forward to 2018

In 2018, look out for early results from our revolutionary MS-SMART trial. The trial is testing three existing drugs at the same time to see if they could become treatments for progressive MS.

As part of the international Progressive MS Alliance we’re continuing to look for promising MS drugs, old and new. And we’re pushing the boundaries of how changes in MS can be measured, so we can speed up clinical trials and deliver new treatments faster.

There’s never been a more exciting time in MS research, and we’d like to thank everyone who’s helping us get closer to our goal of slowing and stopping MS for good. Here’s to 2018!