The treatment landscape for multiple sclerosis patients is changing rapidly and for the better, with new therapies being introduced at a steady clip.
“As a consequence of intense research, we are seeing many new medications being tested and approved, and more are being developed,” said physician-scientist Gabriel Pardo, M.D., head of OMRF’s Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence. “This will alter the way we treat MS.”
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that damages the ability of the nervous system to carry signals to and from the brain. Inflammation causes damage to myelin, the protective covering that surrounds nerve cells. When this covering is damaged, nerve impulses are slowed and sometimes blocked all together. The disease carries with it a variety of symptoms, including problems with vision, tremors, paralysis, painful spasms, imbalance, and cognitive changes.
For years, treatment options for MS were limited and new medications were rare, said Pardo. Most drugs introduced were simply reformulations of previously available therapies. But breakthroughs at research institutes and clinics like the one at OMRF have created new targets for doctors to treat.
The MS Center of Excellence is a one-stop shop for individuals suffering from MS. The center’s physician-scientists provide state-of-the-art care to patients and conduct clinical and laboratory research into the disease, including drug trials. Keeping these services close together is important to patients because MS hinders mobility and causes fatigue. For doctors, it provides a dynamic environment that pairs the best in care with cutting-edge science.
“As we understand more about the pathways that condition MS, it affords us the opportunity to attack it earlier and more effectively,” he said. “The more drugs we have available, the better the chance for us to individualize treatment for our patients.”
In September, a new MS drug called Aubagio® was introduced. Results from phase three clinical trials for another investigational drug, BG-12 or dimethylfumarate, were published in the New England Journal of Medicine that same month.
If approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Pardo said it’s expected to be available to patients in the first quarter of 2013.
“In the next four years, we may be able to double the number of therapeutics available,” he said. “These drugs allow us to slow and sometimes stop the progression of MS. For patients, that means retaining the ability to walk, avoiding hospitalization and continuing a normal lifestyle.”
Even more exciting, he said, is the next frontier of medications. These could not only stop the disease, but reverse its course and repair damaged signaling pathways.
“It’s an incredibly exciting time for doctors and patients,” he said. “That’s why facilities like the MS Center of Excellence are so important. Not only can we provide vital early diagnoses of the disease and treatment to alter its course, we’re also doing research and conducting clinical trials that advance the entire field.”