‘Breakthrough’ drug could offer hope for multiple sclerosis patients.

Multiple sclerosis. A coloured scanning electron micrograph of a microglial cell (orange) ingesting oligodendrocyte cells (pink, branched) in nerve tissue. This  process is thought to occur in multiple sclerosis (MS). Photograph. Getty Images

The development of a “breakthrough” drug for patients with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) may offer hope for some patients in Ireland, researchers have said.

A study of the siponimod drug, carried out in 31 countries on more than 1,600 people with secondary progressive MS, found it significantly delays the advancement of the disease.

If approved for clinical use, siponimod would become the first treatment to delay the disease among people who suffer from secondary progressive MS, according to a study published in The Lancet medical journal on Friday.

Patients tend to transition to secondary progressive MS after an initial phase of relapsing-remitting MS, which is the most commonly diagnosed form of MS.

While significant developments have been made in treatments for the relapse and remission form of the disease over the past 30 years, far less progress had been made in identifying a treatment for the secondary stage of the illness.

MS is a condition of the central nervous system which disrupts the transfer of messages from the brain to the rest of the body.

Up to 9,000 people in Ireland suffer from MS with women aged between 20-40 most likely to develop the condition..

MS is a lifelong condition but is not terminal and ismore common in cooler climates and among Caucasians.

Professor Orla Hardiman, Consultant Neurologist at Beaumont Hospital, said the research, led by the Novartis pharmaceutical company, could potentially change the lives of thousands of people who suffer from the disease in Ireland and who currently have “limited treatment options”.


“It’s a breakthrough drug because it potentially changes the course of secondary MS,” Prof Hardiman told The Irish Times on Friday morning.

“When I started training in the 1980s, MS was completely untreatable. You just gave patients steroids. But over the past 30 years the treatment of MS has been revolutionised.

“One reason for this is we have a better handle on the immune bases of MS and we also have much better ways of measuring the disease activity through MRIs.

“Most people diagnosed with MS now have a very wide choice of drugs they can use and we can be very confident that the relapses can be significantly reduced or abolished all together.” She added the latest study had offered “a real ray of hope for people with secondary progressive MS”.

Prof Hardiman, who was involved in the research of the treatment among Irish patients, said siponimod had little to no side effects on the patients involved in the analyses and that there were “no concerns” around its safety. .

Now that the grug has now completed its stage three clinicial trials, Novartis has started consultations with the European Medicines Agency regarding the licensing of the drug.

“It’s hard to know when it will become available, it all depends on the assessment and pricing and whether it is perceived to be cost effective,” said Prof Hardiman. “I sincerely hope it will be, I think this drug could be very useful.”


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