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May: Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month – latest research is good news

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Published: 2 May 2007

May is Multiple Sclerosis Month and there is no better way of raising awareness for this unpredictable and often debilitating disease than by highlighting the latest research that might offer hope for the 55,000 to 75,000 sufferers across Canada.

May is Multiple Sclerosis Month and there is no better way of raising awareness for this unpredictable and often debilitating disease than by highlighting the latest research that might offer hope for the 55,000 to 75,000 sufferers across Canada. A new drug under investigation for multiple sclerosis (MS) appears to be safe and effective according to studies involving researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute. The studies, presented this week at the American Academy of Neurology's (AAN) 59th Annual Meeting in Boston, also provide deeper insight into the biology of this complex disease.

Canadians have one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis (MS) in the world with approximately 1,000 new cases of MS diagnosed each year. MS is the most common neurological disease affecting young adults in Canada and affects 18% of all Quebecers.

The Phase I and Phase II studies involved people in Canada and the USA with relapsing-remitting MS, in which symptoms flare up and then subside. Treatment with the drug rituximab significantly reduced the number of new brain lesions and the frequency of relapses, times when symptoms of MS flare up.

Rituximab is a therapeutic antibody that selectively targets and depletes a set of immune cells called B-cells by binding to a specific protein on their surface.

"This is the first drug to selectively target B-cells in MS and the significance of its effectiveness is two-fold," says Dr. Amit Bar-Or, neurologist at the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) at McGill University, Montreal, Canada, and lead investigator in the Phase I study. "Not only might it present a significantly improved therapy for patients with relapsing-remitting MS, but it provides a clearer picture of the role that B-cells play in the disease. It's a particularly exciting time and we think meaningful to advancing treatment options for patients."

The Phase I trial was primarily designed to assess the safety of rituximab in MS. According to Dr. Bar-Or, the study indicated that rituximab was very well tolerated, with relatively mild side effects. In addition, new brain lesions appeared reduced by more than 90% with a decrease in the frequency of relapses. Similar results were obtained in the phase II study.

"The success of these early clinical trials for the drug is exciting and the community is hopeful that this approach will represent a meaningful addition to MS therapies and provide novel insights into the disease process itself."

This study was supported by Genentech, Inc., and Biogen Idec.

The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (MNI/H) is home to the oldest MS clinic in Canada. The clinic has 4,000 regular patients and annually sees close to 2,200 patients. Patients are seen by a multidisciplinary team of Physicians, Clinical Nurse Specialists, Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists and Social Workers. MS patients also participate in ongoing clinical studies.

The Montreal Neurological Institute is a McGill University research and teaching institute, dedicated to the study of the nervous system and neurological diseases. Founded in 1934 by the renowned Dr. Wilder Penfield, the MNI is one of the world's largest institutes of its kind. MNI researchers are world leaders in cellular and molecular neuroscience, brain imaging, cognitive neuroscience and the study and treatment of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and neuromuscular disorders. The MNI, with its clinical partner, the Montreal Neurological Hospital (MNH), part of the McGill University Health Centre, continues to integrate research, patient care and training, and is recognized as one of the premier neuroscience centres in the world.

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Contact: Anita Kar
Organization: MNI
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Office Phone: 514-398-3376
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