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ECTRIMS 2016: positive drug results and growing focus on progressive MS

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World’s biggest MS conference comes to the UK and sees encouraging new progress on multiple fronts 

MS researchers from around the world gathered in London in September for the annual congress of the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS). ECTRIMS is the largest global MS conference, bringing together over 9,000 researchers and health professionals for the latest updates and research findings on treatment, care and management of MS.

Delegates examining posters at ECTRIMS 2016During ECTRIMS, we saw significant progress in the field of MS and new studies on progressive MS. Below are some of the highlights.

Positive results for sipinimod

Researchers presented results of a clinical trial of siponimod, which found that the drug reduced risk of progression in people with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis.

The phase III EXPAND trial looked at 1,651 people with secondary progressive MS, most of whom were no longer having relapses. Participants took either siponimod (BAF312) or placebo capsules once a day for up to five years.

The study found that people taking siponimod took longer to show signs of progression than those taking placebo. Progression was measured by EDSS scores taken every three months. Results based on EDSS scores every six months were also positive. The reduction was seen in people who still experienced relapses and in those who did not.

Siponimod was also shown to be more effective than placebo on other measures used in the study, including number of relapses per year, changes in brain volume, and changes in the number of lesions seen on MRI scans

The full results of the study will be submitted for publication.

Novartis, the makers of siponimod, will now apply for a licence for the drug, which will then need to be approved by NICE before it can become available on the NHS.

More news on ocrelizumab

There was also further news on ocrelizumab from the ongoing ORATORIO trial. This is a multi-centre and multi-national drug trial of ocrelizumab, an experimental drug treatment which is being tested as a treatment for relapsing remitting and primary progressive MS. It is taken as an intravenous infusion every six months.

This year several groups presented new data that showed consistent positive effects on walking and slowing the disability progression. The most common side effects were related to the infusion process.

Challenging EDSS

Researchers from the US presented a poster casting doubt on the usefulness of the Expanded Disability Severity Scale (EDSS). This is a method of assessing disability in people with MS, and monitoring changes in disability in clinical drug trials.

From a study of 258 people with MS they came to the conclusion that the EDSS was not a good measure of cognitive disability in people with MS, and suggested that use of the scale as a “solitary gold standard” in measuring accumulated disability should be reconsidered.

Think Hand

This conclusion was reinforced by the #ThinkHand poster presented by the MS team from Barts and the London. This called for a new trials that focused on maintaining upper limb function in people with progressive forms of MS. The EDSS currently focuses on walking as its primary measure of disability, and so many clinical trials exclude people with MS who use wheelchairs for example. Look out for an article about the EDSS in the next issue of Open Door.

This story is part of the November 2016 issue of our free quarterly newsletter Open Door. Sign up for your free subscription!

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