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Statins Slow Progression of Advanced MS in Clinical Trial

Researchers find unlikely new weapon

Currently, no treatments can abate the advanced stage of multiple sclerosis (MS), known as secondary progressive MS, which gradually causes patients to become more disabled.

In a 2-year clinical trial involving 140 patients with secondary progressive MS, simvastatin slowed brain shrinkage, which is thought to contribute to patients' impairments. Supporting this finding, MS patients treated with simvastatin also achieved better scores on movement tests and questionnaires that assessed disability than did patients given placebo.

MS is a neurological condition that affects approximately 2.3 million people worldwide. Most patients are initially diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS, which causes periodic attacks. About 65% of people with this form of MS develop secondary progressive MS within 15 years of being diagnosed. The secondary progressive phase is where MS has the most personal and societal costs.

The authors of the new study, which was led by Imperial College London, said the findings were encouraging but would need to be replicated in a larger trial. Their findings were published in the March 19 edition of The Lancet.

“At the moment, we don't have anything that can stop patients from becoming more disabled once MS reaches the progressive phase,” said co-author Dr. Richard Nicholas. “Discovering that statins can help slow that deterioration is quite a surprise. This is a promising finding, particularly as statins are already cheap and widely used.”

“We need to do a bigger study with more patients, possibly starting in the earlier phase of the disease, to fully establish how effective it is,” he added.

Statins are used by millions of people to lower cholesterol and to prevent heart disease, but it’s unclear why they would have a beneficial effect on MS.

Some studies have found a small benefit from statins in relapsing-remitting MS, which is more treatable. Secondary progressive MS has proven more challenging to alleviate.

In 2013, cannabis became the latest drug to prove unsuccessful at slowing the progression of MS in a clinical trial.

Source: Imperial College London; March 19, 2014.

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