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Monday, 29 October, 2001, 08:35 GMT
MS drug may be a first
Royal Victoria Hospital Belfast
Belfast's RVH is one of three hospitals to test the drug
UK hospitals are testing a drug which may provide the world's first treatment for the most devastating form of MS.

There is no treatment for patients with primary progressive MS, who make up 15% of all people with the disease.

Unlike the relapsing form of MS, it causes continuous and increasingly crippling disability.

Copaxone was introduced in the UK last December and has been used to treat relapsing MS, a condition where the patient enjoys periods of recovery during the illness.

If this drug works in the way we hope it will be extremely significant

Dr Phil Wood

It is being used as an alternative to beta interferon drugs used to reduce the number of relapses suffered by patients and improve their quality of life.

In studies involving mice, Copaxone, has seemed to slow down the rate of deterioration in progressive MS.

The drug, based on three natural amino acids, is now being given to a cohort of 900 primary progressive patients in the UK, US and France.

Initial results are expected in about three years.

The centres involved in the UK trial are the Institute of Neurology in London, Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital and the Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham.


Dr Phil Wood, medical director at Teva Pharmaceuticals, which manufactures Copaxone said initial testing had shown that the drug could be "extremely significant".

"In studies on mouse models Copaxone has been shown to be effective," he said.

"Of course, mice aren't people, but if this drug works in the way we hope it will be extremely significant.

"It would be the only treatment shown to bring any benefit in this very unpleasant type of MS, and offer hope to people who now have no access to any treatment.

"That would be very important."

Copaxone and the beta interferon drugs are currently at the centre of controversy over the treatment of relapsing MS patients.

Nice, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, has provisionally advised that the drugs should no longer be given to NHS patients with MS "on the balance of their clinical and cost effectiveness".

Serious incapacity

The move, made in August, was strongly criticised by both patients and physicians.

A final recommendation from Nice is expected this week.

A spokesman for the MS Society said the trials would be monitored with "considerable interest"

"Primary progressive MS can be highly aggressive and some people with it suffer very serious incapacity.

"There is nothing at the moment which is indicated for primary progressive MS."

Dr Wood added that MS patients deserved a chance of better treatment.

"This disease devastates lives. People with MS deserve treatment and I think living in the UK, the fourth or fifth most wealthy country, we surely should be able to treat them."

See also:

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Multiple sclerosis
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