February 3, 2009

Old drugs inspire hope for those with MS

Some good news about multiple sclerosis -there are some possible new uses for old drugs -- one used to treat leukemia and another to treat TB or leprosy -- could help with MS.

It also looks like those who can't face shots may be able to take an oral drug instead of shots

Over on the peer-reviewed Ploson (Public Library of Science, you can read about how Clofazimine could be a "promising immunomodulatory drug candidate for treating a variety of autoimmune disorders," including MS.

But for an "in English" explanation, I like what Julie Stachowiak's says over in her Multiple Sclerosis Blog:
"The drug clofazimine was developed in the 1890s as a treatment for tuberculosis. Clofazimine happens to also interfere with a molecular pathway that controls the immune response. Basically, clofazimine prevents signaling from the exterior of an immune cell into the interior (where it can "rev up" a response). They result? An inhibited immune system that is less likely to attack the myelin and cause the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (in theory)."
Wait, an even easier explanation is on the John Hopkins press release, starting with the subhead:
"Leprosy medicine holds promise as therapy for autoimmune diseases"
Johns Hopkins pharmacologist Jun O. Liu is quoted saying:
“We never expected that an old antibiotic would hit this target that has been implicated in multiple sclerosis, psoriasis and type 1 diabetes.

Until now, clofazimine’s presumed target was not human cells, but bacteria. But we discovered the drug has a tremendous effect on human immune cells that are heavily involved in both the initiation and execution of an effective immune response.”
The Johns Hopkins researchers uncovered the drug’s latest potential during an ongoing and exhaustive screening of FDA-approved drugs designed to identify new uses for them, according to the press release.

The Hopkins team was specifically hunting for immune system control agents within the Johns Hopkins Drug Library, a collection of more than 3,000 drugs in pharmacies or being tested in phase II clinical trials.

The press release, under the main headline "Teaching old drugs new tricks," goes into detail about the methods the researchers used. It was a lot of work but I'm glad they were so patient. More work to come.

My latest edition of MSFYI from MS Focus had this item on a possible oral drug from Merck:
Oral Drug Cladribine Reduces Relapse Rates in Trial

Another oral medication for MS may be headed toward the FDA approval process after meeting its end-points in a phase III clinical trial.

Cladribine, a drug already approved to treat leukemia, was tested in two dosing levels, both of which reduced relapses seen over one year’s time in people with RRMS when compared to placebo.

More than 1,300 people participated in the CLARITY study. Those in the “low dose” group had 58 percent fewer relapses, compared to those taking placebo; those in the “high dose” group had 55 percent fewer relapses.

Reported side effects included low white blood cell counts as well as headaches and cold-like symptoms.

The Pharmaceutical Business Review said that Elmar Schnee, president of Merck Serono, plans to apply for FDA approval of the drug’s use in MS in mid-2009.

For those with a fear of injections, an oral medication is good news, as so far the only medication that helps prevent relapses is given as injections. Some can be done by the person with MS; some only at a medical faciltity.

It is still hard for me to believe that the first drug known to help prevent MS attacks was approved by the FDA in 1993 - just a year before I was officially diagnosed. I was lucky to get Betasaron and years later Copoxone, which was approved in 1996. I've had fewer side effects from Copoxone and find it fairly easy to do the daily injection.

My knowledge of injections saved us 100-mile round-trip back to the cancer center for a day-after chemo shot. With coaching, my daughter also has joined "Yes, I Can" corps and can give herself a shot now.

By the way, I learned that there were at least 150 MS clinical trials under way in 2008.

You can stay up on the latest with the electronic newsletter from the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. My mom discovered the quarterly print magazine MS Focus in her doctor's waiting room. I found the monthly e-updates over on the web site. Both are free.


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