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Starting a revolution in clinical trials

The way we test drugs is changing. Professor Sue Pavitt is an expert in clinical trial design. She reflects on how far we’ve come, and shares her excitement for a new era of treatments for progressive MS.

One of the first ever clinical trials was conducted more than 250 years ago. It was by James Lind, a ship’s surgeon who compared different potential remedies for scurvy amongst his sailors.

Since then, clinical trials have produced fantastic results. In the last 20 years alone, over a dozen treatments have been developed for relapsing MS.

But there is still a huge unmet need for people with progressive MS.

Rethinking clinical trials

To find treatments for progressive MS, the research community is rethinking how we run clinical trials.

Clinical trials need an enormous investment of time and money. For every 10,000 new molecules identified in the lab, only around 5 will make it into trials. This whole process can take 20 years and cost up to £5 billion per drug for a drugs company.

We need to speed up the process of getting new drugs to people who need them and make it more affordable.

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This is such an exciting time for MS research. The best and brightest minds are coming together, attracted to an area where there is so much excitement. Professor Sue Pavitt

A new kind of trial

One approach that will speed up clinical trials is to look at drugs which are already licensed for other conditions. We know they’re safe, so we can skip the early stages of clinical trials. The MS-STAT2 trial is testing a repurposed drug – simvastatin, with over 25 centres across the UK taking part.

The MS Society is now working with researchers across the UK to build a clinical trials ‘platform’. This new type of trial will allow us to:  

  • test multiple drugs at once, so participants have a better chance of receiving an active drug instead of a placebo
  • try combinations of treatments that target different processes, like myelin repair and neuroprotection
  • add new treatments as they’re discovered and stop testing drugs that aren’t working.

This approach will save money and mean we can answer questions faster. We can continually adapt and improve the trial, so new participants can be given the best potential treatments.

The start of something amazing

This is such an exciting time for MS research. The best and brightest minds are coming together, attracted to an area where there is so much excitement. I see the platform as the start of something truly amazing. And I believe we will transform the treatment landscape for people with progressive MS in the next decade.

This blog first appeared as an article in Research Matters magazine. To get Research Matters by post please contact supportercare@mssociety.org.uk about subscription. You can also download the full issue for free.

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MS researcher at work in lab, using a pipette