Monthly Archives: May 2014

The 2014 MS Research Webinar


I am excited to announce the 2014 MS Research Webinar (and to give you a behind the scenes look at our National Office in Toronto). For the event this year we’ve invited my colleagues Dr. Amy Latimer-Cheung, Dr. Audrey Hicks, Dr. Michelle Ploughman and Dr. Helen Tremlett – whom I know have touched many of your lives across the country.

Our panel will present some of their exciting findings as well as the latest in research related to symptom management and quality of life. You will hear about how exercise and rehabilitation can be best applied to improve the lives of Canadians living with multiple sclerosis. We’ll also explore environmental influences and predictors of MS, as well as ways to live longer, healthier and fuller lives.

I want you to participate.  Whether you are someone living with MS, or you have a connection to it through someone that is special in your life, register here and submit your questions below in the comments, on the MS Society of Canada’s Facebook page or on Twitter. We want to hear from you, because you are the reason we all do what we do.

Emerging therapies at AAN – the B cell movement

Neurologist and leading MS researcher Dr. Amit Bar-Or from the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University presented data on an emerging MS treatment called ofatumumab at the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting last week. Ofatumumab is a monoclonal antibody targeted against a protein commonly found on B cells called CD20. It is currently indicated for the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, but has been recently identified as a potential treatment of autoimmune diseases such as MS.

Dr. Bar-Or presented results from a phase II clinical trial looking at the safety, efficacy and dose response of ofatumumab in people with relapsing-remitting MS.

The study recruited 231 participants who were randomly assigned to one of 5 treatment groups: 3mg every 3 months, 30mg every 3 months, 60mg every 3 months, 60mg every month, and placebo (mock treatment). Participants were given ofatumumab via under-the-skin injections over a period of 6 months and also took part in follow-up studies. The efficacy – ability to produce a beneficial effect – of ofatumumab was determined by its ability to reduce lesions as observed on MRI.

At 12 weeks, treatment with ofatumumab resulted in a significant reduction in the number lesions compared to placebo. The reduction in lesions was observed for all doses. Researchers also reported a linear relationship between suppression of B cell activity and residual disease activity, with 1 new lesion per year with treatment versus 16 new lesions per year without treatment. The drug showed a good safety profile, with reports of some adverse events including injection-site reactions. There were no serious infections, PML cases or immunogenicity (immune reactions against the drug) observed.

Ofatumumab, which is currently being developed by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, adds to the growing list of MS therapies in the pipeline. It is also one of two emerging MS therapies targeting B cells, the other being ocrelizumab. Like ofatumumab, ocrelizumab targets the CD20 protein and is currently in phase III trials led by scientists at Roche.

B cells have gained increasing interest among the MS research community over the years. When trials involving B-cell targeted treatments showed marked improvements in people with MS, researchers acknowledged that B cells are important players in MS disease. Last year, the MS Society and MS Scientific Research Foundation launched a $3.6 million dollar collaborative, multi-site study led by Dr. Bar-Or which seeks to understand how different types of B-cells impact the development and progression of MS, how they may have a role in progressive MS, and how they can be therapeutically targeted to improve health without harming other parts of the immune system. I had a chance to chat with Dr. Bar-Or after his presentation at the conference to get a more in-depth look at ofatumumab and B cells.

Here is what he shared with me.

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The 66th American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting

Today marks the third day of the 66th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Each year the meeting brings together over 10,000 neurologists, scientists, industry representatives, and physicians-in-training from around the world to present research findings, discuss ways to improve clinical care for people with neurological conditions, and interact with other professionals in the field.

Conferences like these are filled with scientific presentations, workshops, poster sessions, meetings, and networking events. They serve as unique opportunities for learning, collaboration, and access to the latest information on advancements in neurological research.

The first presentations on multiple sclerosis reported progress in clinical trials. For therapies already available in Canada, such as natalizumab (Tysabri®, Biogen Idec) and fingolimod (Gilenya®, Novartis), further analysis of previously collected clinical trial data as well as data from new trials observing additional outcomes such as disability and walking speed were discussed. In addition, efficacy and safety data for therapies which remain in pipeline such as the oral drug laquinimod, and peginterferon beta-1a (Plegridy™, Biogen Idec) were presented yesterday. The highlights of these presentations will be summarized and posted online on the MS Society website after the meeting.

Also presented were a series of interesting talks on new therapeutic approaches for managing MS. With currently available therapies acting directly on the immune system, these and other newly conceived therapeutic strategies are impacting MS by exerting protective effects on brain tissue, stimulating myelin repair, and looking to other biological targets that may have been previously overlooked by researchers.

One study presented by Dr. Rhonda Voskuhl from UCLA evaluated estriol as a potential treatment for MS. Estriol is a hormone that is produced in females during pregnancy. The study was based on the observation that, during pregnancy, females with MS experience less relapse activity. Knowing that specific hormones are elevated during pregnancy, Dr. Voskuhl’s team launched a double-blind, placebo controlled clinical trial involving 164 volunteers with MS across 16 sites in the U.S. The volunteers were all being treated with glatiramer acetate (Copaxone®, Teva), a standard MS medication, and randomly assigned to two groups. The first group received estriol in addition to glatiramer acetate, and the second received a placebo treatment in addition to glatiramer acetate. After 12 months, researchers reported a 47% reduction in relapses in the group treated with estriol compared to the group treated with the placebo. Treatment with estriol also resulted in improvements in cognition and EDSS after two years. Treatment with estriol appeared to be safe with no adverse events noted. Read more about the study here.

Keep checking the blog for more updates on the conference and studies that will be presented throughout the week!