New daily tablet offers hope to MS youngsters

Young people with MS have symptoms which include blurred vision, mobility issues and bladder and bowel problems, stock photo

Children with Multiple Sclerosis could soon see a reduction in debilitating symptoms such as blurred vision and bladder problems – thanks to a daily pill.

Experts have hailed the results of a trial of the drug Gilenya as ‘some of the most promising ever seen’.

In MS, the immune system attacks the myelin sheath, the layer that surrounds and protects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. This damages and scars the sheath, and potentially the underlying nerves, meaning messages travelling along the nerves are slowed down or disrupted.

Most young people with MS have the relapsing/remitting type: spontaneous attacks of symptoms including blurred vision, mobility problems, and bladder and bowel problems.

Yet there are currently no treatments specifically approved for children and teenagers, meaning that their treatment is based on drugs and research carried out on adults.

The new research is the first time an MS drug has been trialled specifically on young people.

The study involved 215 people aged between ten and 17 from several countries around the world. Half were given a daily pill of Gilenya and the remainder received the standard treatment for MS – a weekly injection of a drug called interferon.

While interferon produces proteins that may reduce inflammation in the body, Gilenya suppresses the immune system, and so has a stronger effect.

The results showed that those given Gilenya had an 82 per cent lower relapse rate compared to those given the standard injection.

Those receiving the pill also had a significant reduction in the number of brain lesions and less brain shrinkage – both of which are linked with increased relapses and disability – compared to those given interferon.

The drug, also known as fingolimod, is already licensed for adults with MS, and has been shown to reduce the relapse rate in this group by about 50 per cent compared to those taking a placebo.

Experts believe Gilenya, pictured, can provide a major boost to young patients, file photo

Makers Novartis will now apply for a separate licence so that the drug can be prescribed to children, hopefully by the middle of next year.

The research was presented at a conference on Multiple Sclerosis research and treatment in Paris.

Dr Cheryl Hemingway, consultant paediatric neurologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London – one of the centres involved in the trial – said: ‘The data on Gilenya is some of the most promising we have ever seen.’

She added: ‘Being able to reduce MS activity by more than 80 per cent means these young people could have more time to live their lives free of significant, disabling symptoms. Our hope now is that this will enable us to fundamentally change the course of this disease earlier than ever before.’

About 500 under-18s in England and an estimated 10,000 children worldwide have MS, but it is likely there are many more undiagnosed.

The number of young people with the condition is also increasing.

Among those taking Gilenya is Isabel, 15, from Hertfordshire, who was diagnosed with MS two years ago after several years of symptoms including a numb hand, double vision and facial droop.

She says: ‘Overall, this medication has made life a lot easier. I feel happier and more confident – and hope other children can benefit from it.’

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November 14, 2017

Sources:` Daily Mail

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