MS News That Caught My Eye Last Week: AHSCT for SPMS, Rituximab, Sativex, Smoking

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by Ed Tobias |

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This week’s column focuses on stories from Multiple Sclerosis News Today reporters who have been following the annual Congress of the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis, or ECTRIMS.

#ECTRIMS2021 – Stem Cell Transplant May Better Treat SPMS Than DMTs

This presentation involves autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplants (AHSCT), which basically entail a full reset of the body’s immune system by washing out blood cells that may be responsible for MS and replacing them with fresh cells from a patient’s own bone marrow. Several previous studies have suggested that AHSCT is effective at treating relapsing MS, but studies involving people with secondary progressive MS (SPMS) have been lacking. After about five years of AHSCT treatment, people with SPMS in this study showed a significantly slower disease progression compared with those treated with disease-modifying therapies.

AHSCT is approved in several countries, but is still considered experimental in the U.S. What are we waiting for?

A patient-derived stem cell transplant is more effective than available disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) at slowing disease progression in people with active secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS), according to a real-life study in Italy.

Data highlight the potential benefits of this therapeutic approach in SPMS patients, and support its further evaluation in future, appropriately controlled clinical trials, the researchers noted.

Click here or on the headline to read the full story.

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#ECTRIMS2021 — Rituximab as First RRMS Therapy Outperforms Others

What’s particularly interesting to me about this study is that rituximab is not an approved MS therapy in the U.S. It’s a cancer treatment prescribed off-label for MS patients. I wonder why it’s never received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

People with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) who are first treated with rituximab are less likely to have disease relapses and brain lesions as compared with patients on other therapies, according to new data from the COMBAT-MS clinical trial.

“Direct comparisons across multiple disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) for [RRMS] are valuable in clinical decision making. … In treatment-naïve patients, [rituximab] was associated with the lowest risk of relapses and MRI lesions, and by far the lowest probability of switching to a second therapy,” researchers wrote in a poster on the trial, presented at the virtual 37th Congress of the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS).

“These findings underscore the importance of tracking long-term outcomes from first DMT start,” the researchers wrote.

Click here or on the headline to read the full story.


#ECTRIMS2021 – Sativex Eases MS Patients’ Spasticity, Spasms in Trials

In these results, one study reported a benefit of Sativex compared with a placebo, while another reported no significant benefit. This mirrored what someone using it told me: that results were mixed for him. He said he saw “no spectacular improvements.” But he added that the spasticity in his right leg did decrease. I’d like to try this medication and judge for myself.

Sativex (nabiximols), an oral spray containing compounds found in the cannabis plant, can ease muscle spasticity (stiffness) and spasms (sudden, involuntary muscle contractions) in people with multiple sclerosis (MS), scientists report.

At the 37th Congress of the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS), taking place virtually Oct. 13-15, researchers with GW Pharmaceuticals — the company developing and helping to market Sativex — and other institutions shared new analyses of clinical trial data highlighting its effectiveness as an add-on therapy. …

Across all MAS subscales assessed, Sativex significantly eased spasticity compared to placebo in the SAVANT trial. In GWSP0604, the treatment trended toward easing spasticity, though none of the differences were significantly different from placebo.

Click here or on the headline to read the full story.


#ECTRIMS2021 – Quitting Smoking May Help Slow MS Progression

If you have MS and smoke, what more needs to be said to convince you to quit? It’s not too late. Snuff it now.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) patients who quit smoking show a slower rate of disease progression than those who continue to smoke, according to a large real-world study in the U.K.

Moreover, disease progression in former smokers was found to be comparable to that of people who had never smoked, highlighting the beneficial effect of smoking cessation in this patient population, according to researchers.

“When smokers quit, there is a slowing in the rate of motor disability deterioration so that it matches the rate of motor decline in those who have never smoked,” the researchers wrote.

Click here or on the headline to read the full story.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Karen Stuyt Jones avatar

Karen Stuyt Jones

I have had MS for almost 30 years now. I transitioned from RRMS to SPMS following a spine surgery in 2017. I don't know if the surgery was the catalyst to my transition, but it seemed like it at the time. I applied to Dr. Burt's HSCT program in Chicago in May 2017.: ( celebrity Selma Blair was approved for HSCT by him). I was turned down immediately because my brain MRI showed no active lesions. I had had an exacerbation / MS episode in February 2017 by the way. That was my last one. Now, Im just increasing in disability and my score is rising on the EDSS grid!
It doesn't say anything in this article about active lesions being a precursor or qualifier for AHSCT the Italy study?
Ive read Mexico and Russia don't require active lesions. It will be a miracle when the Unites States finally offers this procedure to all! I'm praying for help, medication, or a cure for people like me who are going straight downhill with SPMS!

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Karen,

I'm sorry for the problems you've faced and hope that the U.S. gets its act together and approves AHSCT. I don't think that Mexico accepts everyone and I know that Russia doesn't. One of the MS News Today columnists wrote, several years ago, about his experience with stem cell treatment in Russia. You might search for that column on this website to get an idea of what their process entails.


Celine Dunne avatar

Celine Dunne

I have ms for 35 years I transitioned from RRMS to SPMS I have been on tysabri for 12 years and counting it has never been suggested that I move too any other treatment I have asked to be considered for other treatments but I have hit a wall as other treatments require active lesions so does that mean stem cell treatments are also excluded I like many others all over the world are praying for help. In the last 12 years I have gone from outdoor walking to outdoor wheelchair only. The joys of SPMS which is noticeably getting worse for me and stem cell should at least be offered when your MS has graduated to SPMS
I feel SPMS forms is being totally overlooked and research is only for RRMS

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Celine,

I'm sorry about your progression. I wonder who is telling you that active lesions are required for a different treatment to be approved. Is it your neurologist or is it an insurance or national health service approval issue. Active lesions aren't the only thing that can cause MS progression. Brain atrophy, for example, can pull us down.


Danielle Ritchot avatar

Danielle Ritchot

I have PPMS and I completely agree!


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