New York, NY (Vocus) December 22, 2009
2009 saw exciting research progress, unprecedented opportunities on the horizon, and more scientists than ever working on resolving important questions. Despite the year’s economic and financial challenges, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society continues to propel research forward to end MS. In 2009 the Society provided over $33.5 million to support 345 new and ongoing projects in its research portfolio, plus $1.5 million for Fast Forward, the Society’s drug development subsidiary which continues to attract new funding streams. In addition, thanks to the efforts of our MS activists, $5 million was specifically allocated for funding MS research out of the 2009 Department of Defense budget.
As 2009 comes to a close, the Society maintains its nimble pursuit of promising research opportunities to end MS and has issued an international call for grant applications to expeditiously examine the potential impact of the chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI) hypothesis on disease process in MS. Working with MS Societies around the world, an international panel will be convened to conduct a joint expedited review of the grant applications submitted in order to ensure a coordinated, strategic approach to funding the best research examining the CCSVI hypothesis in 2010. http://www.nationalmssociety.org/news/news-detail/index.aspx?nid=2206
The following is just a small sample of the many important, potentially high-impact research results that occurred during 2009, which support the Society’s three research goals: stopping MS, reversing the damage and restoring function, and ending MS forever.
- Novartis International AG announced that oral FTY720 (fingolimod) significantly reduced relapse rates and slowed disability progression over two years in a large-scale, phase 3 trial in relapsing-remitting MS. According to the company, safety data confirmed a positive benefit-risk profile, and the company plans to seek marketing approval at the end of calendar year 2009.
- An oral drug was submitted to the FDA for marketing approval in September 2009. In a large-scale clinical trial, cladribine tablets significantly reduced relapse rates and other disease activity in people with relapsing-remitting MS. If the FDA application is successful, it would be the first approved oral disease-modifying therapy for MS.
- Fast Forward made its first investments in promising agents. This effort to speed the delivery of new treatments to people with MS has already attracted over $20 million in new funding.
- A small NIH-supported study by Stanford University researchers found that women who breastfed their babies exclusively (without giving supplemental bottles) for at least the first two months post-partum were less likely to have an MS relapse than those who did not breastfeed or who did not breastfeed exclusively during the first two months.
- Multiple previous studies have documented that smoking cigarettes increases the risk of developing MS. Harvard researchers have now tracked hundreds of smokers, ex-smokers and never-smokers, all of whom had MS, for an average of over three years. They reported that disability progressed more quickly in smokers.
- Early, small-scale trials are underway or getting started to test the potential of a special type of adult stem cell found in the bone marrow, called mesenchymal stem cells. Although these cells have the potential for both turning down MS immune attacks and stimulating nervous system repair, it’s still too early to know whether this approach will prove safe and beneficial.
- The first large-scale clinical (“phase II”) trial of the sex hormone estriol in MS, funded by the National MS Society and especially its Southern California chapter, along with the NIH, continued to recruit women with MS to participate, expanding the number of centers to 16 across the US. The two-year trial could lay the groundwork for a larger, definitive trial that could lead to a new treatment option for women with MS.
REVERSING MS DAMAGE/RESTORING FUNCTION
- In response to reports that a phenomenon called CCSVI (chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency, a dysfunction of brain blood flow and/or blood drainage) may contribute to nervous system damage in MS, the Society invited investigators to apply for grant funding and created an accelerated review process to explore this lead. If confirmed, this may open up new research avenues into the underlying pathology of MS and new approaches to therapy.
- The Society gathered together 70 members of the four international Promise: 2010 Nervous System Repair Teams to share progress and plan next steps to speed clinical trials of therapies to protect and reverse neurological damage. Each team reported impressive progress, with two of the teams about to launch new, small-scale clinical trials of different types of stem cells, with separate funding. (http://www.nationalmssociety.org/research/research-news/news-detail/index.aspx?nid=758)
- After showing benefits for temporarily improving walking speed in all types of MS in two phase 3 clinical trials, an advisory committee for the FDA recommended marketing approval for Acorda Therapeutics’ fampridine. If approved, this oral drug would be the first approved specifically for managing MS symptoms. The National MS Society funded early stage studies in the development of this drug.
- Two groups funded by the Society reported findings on nerve tissue injury and repair that add important information needed to stop MS progression and develop nervous system repair strategies. Mayo researchers found two enzymes that may serve as markers of progressive MS and nerve fiber injury, and investigators at Mount Sinai School of Medicine (NY) reported that a different enzyme is essential for replenishing myelin-making cells that are depleted by MS.
ENDING MS FOREVER
- The Society launched a genetics study that should identify most of the common genes that contribute to making people susceptible to developing MS. In the short run this should set us up to discover new disease pathways that can be targeted for therapy. In the longer run, this should provide a map for preventing MS.
- Researchers at the University of Buffalo, New York and Italy reported two studies that add to growing findings linking the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) with multiple sclerosis. One study suggested a link between EBV exposure and the loss of nerve tissue, while the other explored interactions between a person’s genes and EBV.
- For the first time, researchers in the UK and Canada found evidence of a direct interaction between vitamin D and a common genetic variant, the presence of which increases the risk of developing MS. The research highlights the importance of studying the interaction of genes and the environment to search for the underlying triggers of this complex disease.
For details on the studies mentioned visit: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/research/index.aspx
About Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis, an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system, interrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 400,000 people in the U.S. and over 2.1 million worldwide. Each hour, someone is newly diagnosed with MS.
About the National Multiple Sclerosis Society
The National MS Society addresses the challenges of each person affected by MS through funding cutting-edge research, driving change through advocacy, facilitating professional education, collaborating with MS organizations around the world, and providing programs and services designed to help people with MS and their families move their lives forward.
The Society is dedicated to achieving a world free of MS. Join the movement at http://www.nationalMSsociety.org.
About Fast Forward, LLC
Fast Forward, LLC is a nonprofit organization established by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in order to accelerate the development of treatments for MS. Fast Forward will accomplish its mission by connecting university-based MS research with private-sector drug development and by funding small biotechnology/pharmaceutical companies to develop innovative new MS therapies and repurpose FDA-approved drugs as new treatments for MS. For more information visit: http://www.fastforward.org
For Further Information and Interviews
Arney Rosenblat/212 476-0436