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Fresh hope for Britain`s 100,000 multiple sclerosis sufferers is offered by a drug used to treat leukaemia.
Cambridge University researchers have found that alemtuzumab can stop MS advancing in patients in the early stages of the condition.
The findings show it is much more effective than interferon beta-1a in treating early-stage relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS). A three-year trial reported in the New England Journal of Medicine has shown that it can also restore lost function.
Researchers found that patients treated with alemtuzumab were 74% less likely to experience relapses than those taking interferon beta-1a. The risk of disability was reduced by 71%, with many less disabled after three years than at the beginning of the trial.
Dr Alasdair Coles said: “The ability of an MS drug to promote brain repair is unprecedented. We are witnessing a drug which, if given early enough, might effectively stop the advancement of the disease and also restore lost function by promoting repair of the damaged brain tissue.”
Alemtuzumab was developed in Cambridge as a leukaemia drug, but it has also been tested in several diseases where the immune system is overactive.
Paradoxically, the treatment’s main side effect is that people can develop other autoimmune diseases because the immune system gradually recovers following exposure to alemtuzumab.
During the trial, 20% of people treated with alemtuzumab developed an over or under active thyroid gland, while 3% developed a low platelet count and were vulnerable to bleeding.
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