Multiple Sclerosis or MS is a neurological condition that affects around 2.3 million people worldwide. Most patients are initially diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS, which causes periodic attacks.
Around 65 per cent of people with relapsing remitting MS develop secondary progressive MS within 15 years of being diagnosed. The secondary progressive phase is where MS has the most
personal and societal costs.
At present no treatments can slow the advance stage of the disease, known as secondary progressive MS which gradually causes patients to become more disabled but research has shown that Statins may provide an unlikely new weapon to slow down its progression.
Statins are taken by millions of people to lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease. In a two-year clinical trial involving 140 patients with secondary progressive MS, the drug simvastatin slowed brain shrinkage, which is thought to contribute to patients’ impairments.
The authors of the new study, which was led by Imperial College London, said the findings were very encouraging, but would need to be replicated in a larger trial. The work is published in the Lancet.
“At the moment, we don’t have anything that can stop patients from becoming more disabled once MS reaches the progressive phase,” said Dr Richard Nicholas, co-author of the study from the Department of Medicine at Imperial.”
Discovering that statins can help slow that deterioration is quite a surprise. This is a promising finding, particularly as statins are already cheap and widely used.
“We need to do a bigger study with more patients, possibly starting in the earlier phase of the disease, to fully establish how effective it is,” he added.
Whilst it’s unclear why they would have a beneficial effect on MS, some small studies have found benefit from statins in relapsing remitting MS which is more treatable.
This clinical trial is the culmination of long-standing research led by Professor John Greenwood at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology showing the potential therapeutic benefits of using statins to treat autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and uveitis.
Professor Greenwood said, “After nearly two decades of research, it is immensely gratifying to see this work progress into the clinic to deliver benefits to patients.”
The study was funded by J.P Moulton Foundation, Berkeley Foundation, Multiple Sclerosis Trials Collaboration, Rosetrees Trust and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).