Leukemia drug appears to stop early stage MS

By Michael Kahn

LONDON (Reuters) - A drug developed to fight leukemia appears to stop multiple sclerosis in its early stages and restore lost function to patients, British researchers said on Wednesday.

The three-year study of Bayer AG and Genzyme Corp’s alemtuzumab for the first time show long-term improvement in disability, Alasdair Cole, a neurologist at the University of Cambridge, said in a telephone interview.

The drug, made under the brand name Campath, appears to regenerate brain cells and reverse the effects of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, the researchers found.

“This is the first drug that has shown that people’s disability at the end of a period of time has actually improved,” Cole, who helped lead the study, said. “That is really encouraging for people with the disease.”

Multiple sclerosis is a disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks and damages the myelin sheath that protects nerve cells. It affects 2.5 million people globally and can cause symptoms ranging from vague tingling to blindness and paralysis.

Standard treatments using a protein known as recombinant interferon beta include Biogen Idec Inc’s Avonex, the newer treatment Tysabri, developed by Biogen Idec and Elan, and Merck KGaA’s Rebif.

The study compared alemtuzumab to Rebif in 300 men and women with early stage MS, marked by flare-ups of numbness, vision loss and other problems that can last weeks or months.

Campath reduced the number of attacks by 74 percent compared to Rebif and reduced the risk of disability worsening by 71 percent.  Continued…

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