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Study: Drug helps MS patients walk
"This is a great drug and a great story"
An experimental drug for multiple sclerosis is helping some patients walk better, results from a new study show.
Scientists at Acorda Therapeutics, in Hawthorne, announced their results yesterday after finishing analysis of the study over the weekend. Patients on the medicine were walking consistently faster over a 14-week period than those on a placebo. Their leg muscles also seemed stronger.

'This is a great drug and a great story,' said Dr. Lauren Krupp, director of the pediatric MS center at Stony Brook University Hospital and co-director of the adult center. She treated 16 of her patients with Acorda's experimental drug. 'We had great results,' she said. 'Our goal is to keep patients out of a wheelchair.' Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system.Krupp said she first heard about the substance, now called Fampridine-SR, more than 20 years ago. The chemical was synthesized from coal tar in the 1890s. It took almost 100 years for scientists to discover its biological properties. It improves impulse conduction along nerve fibers.

Earlier versions of the medicine in the 1990s proved too toxic to test in humans. But its potential led Dr. Ron Cohen, president, chief executive and founder of Acorda, to take up the challenge. Elan Corp.,Acorda's research partner, created a safer, slow-release version.

Cohen's company has been testing it in humans for several years. The drug is in its final stages of clinical testing. It is also being tested as a treatment for spinal cord injuries.

Fampridine-SR doesn't prevent damage of the myelin sheath around the axons of nerves, which is the mark of MS. But it does increase the electrical signal along damaged fibers, allowing the proper messages to get through.

Patients recruited for the multicenter study had noticeable walking problems. Many already were using walkers or canes. At the end of three months, a third of the patients on the drug showed improvement in walking compared to 8.3 percent who were not taking it. The average increase in walking speed was 25 percent in those on the experimental drug compared with 4.7 percent of those on placebo.

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