MS treatment trial could find existing drugs can prevent or even reverse symptoms

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 12:26 pm
Updated Wednesday, 24th March 2021, 9:56 am
Around half of people diagnosed with MS have a progressive form which causes an accumulation of nerve damage (Photo: Shutterstock)

UK doctors are set to launch a world first trial, examining whether drugs already on the market could prevent multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms worsening.

Researchers will also assess whether such drugs have the ability to reverse some of the debilitating conditions MS can cause.

This is the first time researchers have administered several drugs at once for the treatment of MS. Researchers hope this technique will help identify new treatments for the condition three times faster than trialling one drug at a time.

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Participants in the trial - named 'Octopus' because of its various arms - will be randomly assigned one of three drugs alongside standard treatment for MS. Doctors hope these drugs will at least protect the neurons of participants, if not repair damage already done to neurons.

It is hoped that Octopus will start recruiting later this year, with the trial funded through the MS Society’s Stop MS Appeal.

What is MS?

MS is a condition that occurs when a person's immune system mistakenly attacks the brain or spinal cord of the nervous system. This causes electrical signals to travel much more slowly along a person's nerves, disrupting them and sometimes causing them to stop entirely.

Some cases can be mild, but around half of people diagnosed with MS have a progressive form which causes an accumulation of nerve damage, sometimes resulting in speech problems, muscle stiffness and the need to use a wheelchair or walking aids.

There are already treatments on the market to slow the impact of MS on the body, but fewer options are currently available to help patients whose condition is progressive.

Researchers on the Octopus trial hope their research may close this gap. If any of the three drugs being tested shows benefit, more participants will be recruited to gather more data on the treatment.

'This trial could revolutionise MS treatment'

Trial participants will be given a brain scan 18 months after taking the drugs. This scan will reveal whether or not the drug they're taking has slowed down the brain shrinkage that MS causes.

If a drug is found to have no effect, this drug will be taken off the trial and participants will be given another, with the trial continuing.

“This trial could revolutionise treatment for people with progressive MS. They could stop worrying about the condition getting worse,” Dr Emma Gray, the MS Society’s assistant director of research, told The Guardian.