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Positive results for oral MS treatments

Three separate studies have shown oral drugs for multiple sclerosis (MS) - cladribine and fingolimod - to be at least as effective as current treatments

Three separate studies have shown oral drugs for multiple sclerosis (MS), cladribine and fingolimod, to be at least as effective as current treatments.

The studies, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, each involved over 1,000 patients from over 18 countries as part of three phase III clinical trials, two involving fingolimod and one involving cladribine.

If successful these would be the first oral treatments available for the neurological disorder.

Results for the studies, which tested the effectiveness and safety of the drugs for relapsing remitting MS, saw relapse rates cut by 50-60 per cent over two years compared with placebos for both drugs.

Fingolimod was also tested against widely-used injection, beta-interferon-1a, with the proposed drug reducing relapse rates by 52 per cent compared with the standard treatment. Brain lesion activity was also found to be reduced, though no effect on disability progression was observed in the trial. 

Dr Doug Brown, biomedical research manager at the MS Society, said: "This is great news for people with MS and signifies a shifting tide in the treatment of the condition. Availability of oral therapies will give people greater choice and being able to take a tablet instead of unpleasant injections will come as welcome relief. The evidence is now there and we will be working with the relevant authorities to make sure those who will benefit can get access."

Merck Serono, the makers of cladribine, applied for a license to market the pill in the UK in July 2009 while Novartis, the makers of fingolimod, applied for a license to market their drug in the UK in December 2009

Both are currently awaiting a decision by the regulatory authorities.

If the decision is positive, both drugs could be available as early as 2011.

21st January 2010

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