New Drug Shows Promise in Slowing Progressive MS
Multiple sclerosis (MS) can be a devastating disease. It confuses the immune system and attacks the brain and spinal cord, causing numbness, weakness, and visual and cognitive problems.
Later on, in the stage of disease called progressive MS, symptoms gradually worsen over time. A Cleveland Clinic-led NIH study suggests a new drug, ibudilast, has the potential to help the many patients who face gradually worsening disability during this stage.
“More than a dozen therapies work quite well in the early stages of MS. But we’ve had very few treatment options for patients with progressive MS,” says the study’s lead investigator, Robert Fox, MD, of the Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis. “These results point to a potential new therapy for progressive MS.”
They will likely pave the way for the larger studies required for FDA approval.
Ibudilast, an oral medication approved in Japan for treating asthma and symptoms that develop after a stroke, works through novel pathways that may protect nerve cells from damage.
Intermittent vs. progressive MS
In the early stages of MS, neurological symptoms come and go. About half of those with MS maintain this relapsing-remitting symptom pattern over time.
The other half with MS go on to develop progressive disease that gradually worsens over time and causes severe disability. (A small group of patients skip the relapsing-remitting stage and go straight to progressive MS.)
“One of the things we see in progressive MS is shrinkage of the brain. It is much faster than what we see in the normal, healthy adult brain,” notes Dr. Fox.