Researchers still pushing for better multiple sclerosis treatments

March 18, 2014 by Chris Thomas
Before 1996, there were no therapies to slow MS and the ones that followed required people to inject themselves; now there are oral medication options. Credit: Gerda

Two new oral treatments have become available for people with multiple sclerosis, helping to delay the progression of disability and reduce the frequency of relapse.

Diethyl fumarate, known as Tecfidera (and BG-12 in clinical trials), and teriflunomide, known as Aubagio, recently joined fingolimod (Gilenya) as oral treatments on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

WA was involved in some clinical trials for the treatments and a patient familiarisation program and continues to monitor people on the medications through best clinical practice.

St John of God Subiaco Hospital clinical professor and consultant neurologist Allan Kermode manages a research team investigating causes of MS and says the development and testing of oral treatments has been an expensive, slow and painstaking process.

Before 1996, there were no therapies to slow MS and the ones that followed required people to inject themselves.

"Fingolimod was originally considered as a medication for organ transplants but it was found not to be very useful in that context," Professor Kermode says.

"Teriflunomide is a derivative of a drug commonly used for arthritis while dimethyl fumarate was a chance discovery because fumarate in the compound form had been used to treat psoriasis.

"The holy grail of these treatments is to reduce clinical progression of disability and the second benefit is a reduction in the relapse rate.

"These drugs all reduce the frequency and severity of attack for patients with MS—in the case of dimethyl fumarate, have suggested an 85 per cent reduction in the number of new inflammatory lesions.

"We would like to think that reduction in inflammation also facilitates recovery from attack."

Prof Kermode says the therapies are believed to have a beneficial effect in MS via the immune system but other mechanisms of action are also possible.

"You might say how can we select a drug when we don't really have any idea of how it works? But it's not that surprising when you consider we don't have any idea what causes MS," he says.

"The end points of therapy are also somewhat imprecise. If you're using a cancer treatment, you count how many people die. If you're testing an anti-hypertensive you measure the blood pressure.

"We don't really have any good target markers for MS because there are a number of different factors involved and this is due in no small part to the heterogeneity and variability of MS itself."

Currently, Prof Kermode is collecting blood from patients in an effort to pinpoint biomarkers, looking at RNA expression, and working as part of an Australian collaborative study to isolate pharmacotherapeutic biomarkers.

The two new treatments, diethyl fumarate known as Tecfidera, and teriflunomide known as Aubagio, were added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in December 2013.

Explore further: New oral drug found to reduce relapses in multiple sclerosis patients

Related Stories

Ingredient in new MS drug linked to serious brain disease

April 24, 2013

(HealthDay)—The active ingredient in a drug that's expected to become a popular treatment for multiple sclerosis has been linked to four European cases of a rare but sometimes fatal brain disease called progressive multifocal ...

Patients curious about medical marijuana treatments

January 16, 2014

Ever since medical marijuana became legal in Illinois on Jan. 1, Loyola University Medical Center neurologist and multiple sclerosis specialist Dr. Matthew McCoyd has been inundated with questions from his patients.

New knowledge about treating multiple sclerosis

February 3, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—A study carried out at Victoria, and recently published online in the international scientific journal PLOS ONE, holds promise for patients suffering from secondary progressive MS, an advanced form of the ...

Recommended for you

Closing the loop with optogenetics

August 28, 2015

An engineering example of closed-loop control is a simple thermostat used to maintain a steady temperature in the home. Without it, heating or air conditioning would run without reacting to changes in outside conditions, ...

Self-control saps memory, study says

August 26, 2015

You're driving on a busy road and you intend to switch lanes when you suddenly realize that there's a car in your blind spot. You have to put a stop to your lane change—and quickly.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.