Studies suggest investigational agent reduces disease activity in MS

BOSTON A new drug under investigation shows a reduction in disease activity in multiple sclerosis (MS), according to two studies that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 59th Annual Meeting in Boston, April 28 May 5, 2007. The drug reduced disease activity as indicated by MRI scans.

Both of the studies involved people with the relapsing-remitting form of MS, where symptoms flare up and then subside. By 24 weeks, treatment with the drug rituximab reduced the number of areas of brain damage, or lesions, in people with MS and the number of relapses, or times when symptoms flare up, when compared with placebo.

Rituximab is a therapeutic antibody that selectively targets and depletes a subset of immune cells called B-cells by targeting a specific protein on their surface.

"This is the first drug to target B-cells and may represent a potential new treatment strategy for relapsing-remitting MS," said study author Stephen Hauser, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. "While these are early stage clinical trials, these results are exciting, because the current drugs available for MS are only partially effective in reducing disease activity and preventing exacerbations. New and more effective treatments for MS are sorely needed, especially for people who do not adequately respond to currently available medications. These data are also important because they demonstrate that B-cells, which are the precursors of antibody-producing cells, play an essential role in mediating relapses of MS."

In the first study, a randomized, placebo-controlled trial, 69 people were given two infusions of rituximab two weeks apart and 35 were given a placebo. The participants were followed for six months. Those given rituximab had approximately 90 percent fewer brain lesions than those given placebo. During the six-month period, 58 percent fewer of those taking the d

Contact: Angela Babb
American Academy of Neurology

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