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Neurologists Test New Oral Drug for MS Patients
Researchers in the Department of Neurology at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston are part of a worldwide Phase III clinical trial of the first oral drug to show significant promise in treating multiple sclerosis.
The drug, fingolimod, also known as FTY720 by manufacturer Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., has been shown in earlier trials to significantly reduce relapse rates in people suffering from the relapsing remitting form of MS, the most common type.
“In the MS world, this is one of the most promising drugs for the treatment of multiple sclerosis,” said Flavia Nelson, M.D., assistant professor of neurology at the medical school and principal investigator for the Houston site. “This will be very beneficial for MS patients who have trouble taking injectable medications either because of a generalized or site reaction.”
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which T cells in the immune system attack the myelin, a fatty sheath that surrounds and protects nerve fibers in the central nervous system. As areas of the myelin are destroyed, scar tissue called sclerosis forms and interferes with the ability of the nerves to send electrical impulses to and from the brain. Often the nerves can be destroyed as well, causing irreversible neurological damage resulting in physical disabilities.
Fingolimod is an antibody specifically designed to bind to a receptor on immune cells, including T cells and B cells that have been activated to react against myelin. The medication blocks the cells from leaving the lymph nodes and migrating into the brain and spinal cord.
The UT Medical School is the only Houston site for the FTY720 trial. The two-year study, funded by Novartis, will include 2,000 MS patients in about 200 study centers worldwide.
Promising results of the Phase II trial, conducted at 32 centers in 11 countries, were published in the New England Journal of Medicine Sept. 14, 2006.
The most effective injectable MS drugs now available have been shown to reduce the number of relapses by an average of 30 percent, while in Phase II trials, fingolimod showed a 52 percent reduction.
Because fingolimod can cause a slight decrease in heart rate, it is not recommended for people who have low blood pressure or a history of heart problems.
For more information about the Houston clinical trial, call 713-500-7045.
By Deborah Mann Lake, Institutional Advancement
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