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International MS community meets to fast track developments for Progressive MS

6th March, 2013

Photo courtesy of MSIF

More than 170 clinicians, researchers and representatives of MS organisations from around the world met in Milan, Italy, at the beginning of February. Their sights were set on overcoming the challenges to drive the development of treatments for people with progressive MS.

The meeting, organised by the MS International Federation together with the Dutch, Canadian, USA, Italian and UK MS Societies, was the first conference of the International Progressive MS Collaborative that was established in 2011. MS Research Australia Research Chairman, Professor Bill Carroll, attended the meeting.

‘It was a really productive meeting,’ said Prof Carroll, ‘There was a shared sense of urgency and agreement that global cooperation will accelerate progress.’’

Among the main themes discussed at the conference was the concept of re-developing, or ‘repurposing’ existing neuroprotective or regenerative drugs that have already been investigated or are in use for other conditions. This could potentially speed up the usually very lengthy drug development pipeline.

The development of treatments for progressive MS is also hampered by a lack of good animal models for progression. The current laboratory models of MS-like disease have been extensively used to understand the biology of relapsing MS and conduct pre-clinical testing of immune-modulating drugs, but are of little use for understanding progressive disease. Some researchers are already developing these models, and it is hoped that they will provide a test-bed for neuroprotective drugs.

The conference delegates also considered the progress that has been made in the development of brain imaging tools to track neurodegeneration. New biological markers that might be found in blood or cerebrospinal fluid (biomarkers) are also being investigated that could allow tracking of nerve damage in real-time.

Combining new biomarker technologies with innovative new clinical trial designs will allow new therapies to be tested more quickly and at lower cost. One trial of several potential therapies for secondary progressive MS is already underway using an ‘adaptive’ trial design that allows ineffective therapies to be gradually eliminated within the time-line of the one trial.

Understanding the causes of progressive MS was also discussed. To date, the genetic studies of MS have not provided any clues that distinguish relapsing MS from progressive, nor predict disease severity. Further efforts are required to dig deeper into the existing genetic and epidemiological data to investigate this.

Another top priority is the development of more effective symptom management, exercise and rehabilitation programs to reduce the impact of progressive disability and improve quality of life.

The scientific leadership group of the Collaborative are now evaluating the conference outcomes to develop an action agenda for the international research community to focus their efforts.

‘I think the most promising things to come out of this conference were the commitment to collaborative effort, recognition of the necessity for stimulation and guidance from the international community spearheaded by MSIF, and the considerable thought already given to this area by researchers,’ said Prof Carroll. ‘Australian researchers can play a particularly strong role in the global effort on progressive MS in a number of areas’