Promising results for a generic antimalarial drug, hydroxychloroquine, have been seen when used to treat the evolution of disability of primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS), the least treatable form of the autoimmune disease.
Research teams led by Dr Marcus Koch, MD, PhD, and Dr Wee Yong, PhD, found that hydroxychloroquine helped to slow the progression of disability during the 18-month study involving participants at the MS clinic in Calgary. The research was published in Annals of Neurology.
“With primary progressive MS, there is no good treatment to stop or reverse the progression of disease. The disability progressively worsens through time,” said Dr Koch. “Dr Yong’s research team, with whom we closely collaborate, has been screening a large number of generic drugs over several years and the results with hydroxychloroquine show some promise. Our trial is a preliminary success that needs further research. We hope sharing these results will help inspire that work, specifically larger scale clinical trials into the future.”
The experimental study followed 35 people, at least 40% of whom, or 14 participants, were expected to experience a significant worsening of their walking function, but at the end of the trial only eight participants had worsened.
Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malaria medication more commonly used to manage the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune conditions such as lupus. It was selected as it is use in rheumatological diseases is widespread and is generally well-tolerated.
“Based on research in our lab on models of MS, we predicted that hydroxychloroquine would reduce disability in people living with MS. Calgary has a vibrant bench-to-bedside MS program and the work from Dr Koch’s trial offers further evidence which we were pleased to see,” said Prof Yong.
To date, the cause of MS is unknown. This autoimmune disease generally long-lasting, often affecting the brain, spinal cord and the optic nerves in your eyes. It can cause problems with vision, balance and muscle control, although the effects are different for every patient with the disease.
Dr Koch and the research team have been studying the impact of hydroxychloroquine on primary progressive MS for several years and that work continues, including its potential to achieve even greater results as a therapy in combination with select other generic drugs.