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Introducing the efficient clinical trials platform

Dr Emma Gray

Dr Emma Gray is our Head of Clinical Trials. She gives us the low-down on the planned efficient clinical trials platform that will help us test potential treatments for MS more quickly and cheaply.

Stepping up the pace of research

Our number one goal is for everyone with MS to have effective treatments to slow, stop and one day reverse disability progression. Although we've made great progress in finding treatments for relapsing MS, there's still nothing widely available for people with progressive MS that could slow or stop progression.

So we’re stepping up the pace of research.

We're planning a new ‘efficient clinical trials platform’, led by Professors Jeremy Chataway and Max Parmar from University College London. The platform is designed to develop treatments up to three times faster than we currently do. 

Speeding up the development of new treatments for MS

In traditional clinical trials, a potential treatment is compared to a placebo (dummy drug) or existing treatment. This is effective, but not always efficient. We can only test one drug at a time, it takes a long time and is very expensive.

Our new ‘efficient clinical trials platform’ will streamline the process. It will provide a structure to test new and repurposed drugs (those that are already used in other conditions) more quickly and cheaply.

The benefits of the clinical trials platform

This type of clinical trials platform has been shown to reduce research timelines from 15 years to 5 years.

  • Instead of stopping and starting separate trials all the time, we'll have a rolling programme. We'll be able to quickly add new treatments as they're discovered and stop testing drugs that aren’t working.
  • We’ll be able to test multiple drugs at once, increasing the chances of finding one that works
  • With many arms in the trial we'll be able to try out combinations of treatments.

Progress so far

A group of clinicians, statisticians and other researchers, as well as people living with MS, have been working hard to design the platform. They've identified several promising treatments that could be the first to be tested in the platform. Other projects have included:

  • refining a set of measures to tell us when drugs might be working
  • the statistics needed for a trial like this
  • what infrastructure is needed to recruit and engage people with MS.

We've already demonstrated we can run larger, more efficient trials with our MS-SMART trial.

Professor Jeremy Chataway, who'll be the Chief Investigator for the new platform, said: “I was the lead investigator of MS-SMART, a multi-arm trial which tested three different medications against a placebo in people with secondary progressive MS. To our knowledge, this was the first time in the world a multi-arm trial had ever been attempted in progressive neurological conditions.

"I will be working in close partnership with Professor Max Parmar to deliver the new clinical trials platform. What’s truly innovative is that it will continually adapt to give the best possible outcomes, and will lead to treatments for progression becoming available to people living with MS much sooner.”

Lessons from prostate cancer

Clinical trials platforms like this have already proved successful in cancer research. Professor Max Parmar, Director of the MRC Clinical Trials Unit at UCL, pioneered a prostate cancer trial that found new treatments for people with advanced prostate cancer. Previously there were no treatments available for this.

Professor Parmar told us: “In one platform trial we have run, we were able to answer eight research questions in 15 years. If we’d done this using a traditional trial design, even in the most efficient way possible, it would have taken us more than 40 years!”

He now hopes to use his expertise to find treatments for everyone living with MS.

Although there's still a long way to go, we hope to have new treatments in late stage clinical trials by 2025.

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