New treatments for MS

May is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month. Here are two new treatments that may help those with MS cope better

By Lisa Hannam

New treatments for MS

Multiple sclerosis is an often-debilitating disease that attacks the myelin, the protective covering around the nerves of the central nervous system (which consists of the spinal cord and the brain), causing cognitive, muscle and mobility problems. The disease affects two to three times as many women as men; it’s estimated that 37,000 to 56,000 Canadian women suffer from MS.


Studies published by The New England Journal of Medicine show that oral meds could replace the injections MS patients now endure. Fingolimod, an oral immunosuppressant, was given daily to MS patients in two separate studies involving more than 2,500 participants. Researchers found that it significantly reduced the progression and relapse rates during a one-year period. The theory is that it may repair the myelin, but the long-term effects have yet to be studied.


Other research, led by Queen Mary–University of London (England), enrolled more than 1,300 MS patients to evaluate the efficacy of cladribine, an oral med currently used for hairy cell leukemia. It would only need to be taken for one to two months per year. Side effects were minimal, says Dr. Mark Freedman, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Research Unit at The Ottawa Hospital, which participated in the trial. The drug targets the white blood cells thought to have a role in MS, and stops them from damaging the central nervous system.

“Patients love the fact that they don’t have to do injections. However, cladribine is unlikely to be cheap,” says Freedman. Cladribine and fingolimod are awaiting approval from Health Canada for treating MS and are being studied for their adverse effects. Freedman would not speculate when these drugs could be available for Canadians.

This article was originally titled "New treatments for those with MS" in the May 2010 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience—and never miss an issue!—and make sure to check out what's new in the latest issue of Best Health.

Best Health Magazine, May 2010

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