Two Already-Approved Medications Could Treat MS

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Two already available medications could be used to treat multiple sclerosis (MS). In a new study titled, Drug Based Modulation of Endogenous Stem Cells,” published in the journal Nature on April 20, 2015, scientists report that two drugs could activate stem cells in the brain, possibly repairing MS-induced damage to white matter.

The white matter in the brain consists of myelin, a fatty substance that helps brain cells transmit impulses along the long axons that connect brain cells (neurons). When myelin is damaged in MS due to an autoimmune response, brain cells no longer transmit impulses correctly. This causes loss of movement, pain, loss of vision and problems with normal sensation. Medications that can repair myelin and white matter and restore proper neuron communication would be of great use for treating MS.

The new report suggests that two such medications may already exist.

“To replace damaged cells, the scientific field has focused on direct transplantation of stem cell-derived tissues for regenerative medicine, and that approach is likely to provide enormous benefit down the road. We asked if we could find a faster and less invasive approach by using drugs to activate native nervous system stem cells and direct them to form new myelin. Our ultimate goal was to enhance the body’s ability to repair itself,” stated Paul J. Tesar, Ph.D., associate professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland, and senior author of the study.

Led by Fadi J Najm, Ph.D., of the Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, the researchers identified 727 drugs known to be safe in humans that could possibly act on oligodendrocytes, the cells that produce myelin in the brain. To find the drugs, the investigators used a database of medications available from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

They tested the drugs in oligodendrocyte stem cells taken from mice to see if they could mature into fully functioning oligodendrocytes that produce myelin. Two drugs stood out as being the best: miconazole (an antifungal) and clobetasol (a steroid). The researchers then tested the ability of these drugs to produce myelin in mice with an experimental form of MS. After injection, both drugs induced myelin production by oligodendrocytes and even reversed paralysis in mice.

“The ability to activate white matter cells in the brain, as shown in this study, opens up an exciting new avenue of therapy development for myelin disorders such as multiple sclerosis,” said Ursula Utz, Ph.D., who works at the NIH.

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However, although the two drugs are approved, they have not been tested in an injectable form in humans, so more safety data is needed in humans before the drugs can be used in MS. The scientists are busy trying to move the research forward.

“Off-label use of the current forms of these drugs is more likely to increase other health concerns than alleviate multiple sclerosis symptoms. We are working tirelessly to ready a safe and effective drug for clinical use,” Dr. Tesar said. Off-label use refers to using an approved drug for a disease that it was not studied for in clinical trials.

Although more work is needed, the current study provides promise for new treatments that hopefully may be available faster due to the already-approved status of these two medications.

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  1. James Lewellyn says:

    My wife has progressive MS and has had it for thirty years and I have watched her go from walking to not being able to walk, loosing all functions on her right side, needing help to get from chair, bed toilet and back into her wheel chair. We have see new and hopeful drugs come out and never hear of them again.
    We go see her neurologist once a year with hope that she may know of some drug that may help or stop the progress for her MS. Every year its the same story nothing yet. All we can hope is that its not much longer before her health is complete deteriorate.

    Concerned husband and caretaker


      • Allan J Kvasnicka says:

        My wife has progressive MS and I also have the article on Vitamin H, Biotin. She has taken Copaxone, Tysabri, low fat diet, etc., etc. She was diagnosed ~27 years ago.

        We have read the article on Biotin and the favorable results that the researchers saw in patients with progressive MS. We could not pass the opportunity up for her to increase her Biotin intake significantly which we have. In the article, the researchers provided the patients with pharma. grade Biotin of ~300mgs per day.

        Article is at: “MedDay announces its pivotal Phase III study of MD1003 in patients with Progressive Multiple Sclerosis meets primary endpoint”

        Good luck & God bless.

        • Cari says:

          I’ve been taking it and so far, I can’t report anything beneficial save for my hair becoming thicker. I have had intrathecal msc stem cells and they are the only therapy whatsoever that has any positive effects.

      • Alisa Woods, PhD says:

        Average time for a drug to go through clinical trials is 12 years. Fast-tracking a drug can speed up the process. Since these drugs are already approved, if a clinical trial is initiated the process could be faster. They will need to develop a different formulation though, an injectable or oral form since right now these drugs are topical.

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