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Alzheimer's Drug Could Be An Advance
Written by Jamie Talan, Newsday Staff Writer   
Wednesday, 10 November 2004
An Alzheimer's drug brought about moderate improvement in memory and other cognitive problems in people with multiple sclerosis, according to a new study by doctors at Stony Brook University Hospital. The study, led by Dr. Lauren Krupp, offers hope for MS patients, many of whom suffer from memory and other cognitive deficits that make it hard to concentrate. Many of the MS patients taking Aricept, approved for Alzheimer's dementia, said they were able to return to work or had an easier time remembering details, said Krupp, a professor of neurology and co-director of the hospital's MS Center. The results from the first 69 MS patients were impressive enough that the study will be expanded to include 144 MS patients and others from three hospitals across the country. "If we can replicate these findings, this will be a major advance for patients," Krupp said. Until now, cognitive problems have taken a backseat to the medical symptoms of MS, which include fatigue, severe vision problems, loss of balance and muscle coordination, slurred speech, tremors, stiffness and bladder problems. The results of the study were published this week in the journal Neurology. The Stony Brook team tested patients before taking Aricept and then six months later. They performed better on a verbal memory test. Patients were between 20 and 55 years old. The results were modest, similar to findings from Alzheimer's patients who take Aricept, experts say. "You try something to see if it works," said psychologist Nicholas LaRocca, director of healthcare delivery and policy research at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in New York. He said that half the 400,000 people in the United States living with MS take medication for the disabling condition. The disease-modifying drugs like Avonex, made by Biogen, and Copaxone, made by Teva Pharmaceutical, must be injected and are costly (about $1,000 a month). The beta-interferon medicines like Avonex also can cause flu-like side effects. These medicines don't treat the cognitive problems. There is growing evidence that MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system ˇ the brain and spinal cord. The insulation protecting nerve fibers, called myelin, is lost or damaged. The majority of patients have symptoms that come and go, depending on myelin damage and level of inflammation. In other drug research, Elan Corp. has been testing Antegren, in a new class of medicines, to prevent the inflammatory lesions. So far, studies that will be used by the company to gain federal approval to treat MS show a 66 percent reduction in the relapse rate in patients on the medicine, more than double the effect of standard treatments. Almost 950 patients were part of the multicenter trial. Stony Brook is one of the study sites. Antegren "has the potential to make a real difference in the lives of MS patients," said Lars Ekman, head of research at Elan. "It's a completely new mechanism of action." Stony Brook's Krupp said that she's not surprised by the findings. If approved, patients would be able to get an infused dose once a month. Elan, and its partner Biogen Idec, have submitted the studies to the FDA. The agency has the drug in its fast-track system. Because of the drug's unique action, it is also being tested for Crohn's disease and rheumatoid arthritis. (Copyright Newsday Inc., 2004)