Page last updated at 00:59 GMT, Friday, 20 June 2008 01:59 UK

Promising trials for new MS pill

Multiple sclerosis patient
Multiple sclerosis attacks the protective coat of the nerves

A new oral drug for multiple sclerosis has produced promising results in clinical trials.

Laquinimod was shown to reduce signs of disease activity in scans, and was well tolerated by patients with the relapsing-remitting form of MS.

Experts say an oral medication could potentially be a significant advance, as current drugs are all injectable.

The study, published in the Lancet, was carried out by a team from Milan's University Vita-Salute.

Having to regularly inject treatments is unpleasant and the sooner a safe and effective pill is made available, the better
Dr Laura Bell
MS Society

MS is caused by a faulty immune system, which attacks the myelin sheaths protecting the nerves, damaging their ability to transmit signals.

It particularly affects the white matter tissue found in the brain and other parts of the nervous system.

Drugs available at the moment, such as glatiramer acetate and beta interferon, focus on the inflammation caused by the disease - a particular problem with the relapsing-remitting form - but they all have to be injected.

Damage to brain

The latest trial, involving 51 centres in nine countries, focused on 300 patients who had had at least one relapse in the previous year, and whose MRI scans showed evidence of at least one area of damage caused by inflammation.

The patients received either a 0.3mg or 0.6mg daily dose of laquinimod, or a placebo pill.

The impact was assessed by carrying out scans of the brain and spinal cord every four weeks for nine months.

The researchers found that, compared with placebo, patients who took the higher dose of laquinimod had 40% less damage.

However, the lower dose appeared to have no significant effect.

Only two patients developed side effects, but although these were severe, they stopped when they came off the drug.

Dr Laura Bell, of the MS Society, said: "People living with MS can be encouraged that there are now several oral therapies in late stage clinical trials.

"Having to regularly inject treatments is unpleasant and the sooner a safe and effective pill is made available, the better.

"We will be closely following the progress of this and other oral therapy trials, and look forward to further promising results."

Helen Yates, chief executive of the MS Resource Centre, said the trial was "encouraging news".

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