New drug study at UCalgary shows promising treatment option for patients with multiple sclerosis

A new study from the University of Calgary may bring hope to people suffering from a debilitating form of multiple sclerosis.

Researchers say the generic drug hydroxychloroquine shows promise for slowing disability in the least treatable form of the autoimmune disease.

Hydroxychloroquine is an antimalarial drug more commonly used to manage symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune diseases such as lupus. It was chosen because it is widely used in rheumatological diseases and generally well tolerated.

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The experimental study followed 35 people between November 2016 and June 2021, with follow-ups with each participant at six months and 18 months. The researchers expected to see at least 40% of them experience a significant worsening of their walking function.

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But by the end of the trial, only eight participants had gotten worse.

“With primary progressive MS, there is no good treatment to stop or reverse the progression of the disease. The disability gets progressively worse over time,” said study co-director Dr. Marcus Koch.

“Our trial is a preliminary success that requires further research. We hope that sharing these results will help inspire this work, especially larger scale clinical trials in the future.

Multiple sclerosis affects approximately 90,000 Canadians, including approximately 15% of those diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis, one of the highest rates in the world.

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It is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and is usually long-lasting, often affecting the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves in the eyes. It can cause problems with vision, balance and muscle control, although the effects are different for everyone with the disease.

The cause is unknown.

The research was published in Annals of Neurology.

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