Magazine article Science News

Treatment May Offer MS Turnaround: Leukemia Drug Improves Multiple Sclerosis in Some People

Magazine article Science News

Treatment May Offer MS Turnaround: Leukemia Drug Improves Multiple Sclerosis in Some People

Article excerpt

A disease thought to be incurable is now a step closer to losing that dispiriting reputation. Multiple sclerosis, the disabling neuromuscular disease that has resisted effective drug therapy, eases off in some people given alemtuzumab, a drug normally prescribed for leukemia, researchers report in the Oct. 23 New England Journal of Medicine.

"We think this is something very special," says study coauthor David Margolin of Genzyme Corp. in Cambridge, Mass. Genzyme joined an international team of researchers to conduct the trial.

The optimism, however, is tempered by worrisome side effects that showed up in MS patients on the drug. Two more large-scale trials will address those issues.

In MS, the body's immune cells orchestrate an attack on the fatty sheaths that insulate nerve fibers in the central nervous system. The origins remain a mystery, but the mutiny results in motor control losses and can cause permanent disability.

Alemtuzumab, marketed as Campath, wipes out a huge portion of a person's immune system--a good thing if your immune cells are running amok.

While the drug has helped patients fight chronic lymphocytic leukemia, testing against MS progressed slowly in the 1990s as researchers mainly tested the drug in advanced-stage, mostly middle-aged MS patients, with little success.

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That approach changed in 2002 when an international team of researchers began testing the drug on younger, less-advanced-stage MS patients over a three-year trial. …

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