Statins could delay crippling symptoms of MS

  • Hundreds of MS sufferers will be given statins to see if drugs can slow disease
  •  Early trial suggested brain shrinkage was halved in patients who took statins
  • 100,000 people in the UK suffer from the disease which causes mobility loss, sight problems, fatigue and pain and affects twice as many women as men 

Ben Spencer Medical Correspondent For The Daily Mail



Hundreds of British patients with advanced multiple sclerosis are to be given statins as part of a major trial to see if the drugs can slow the disease’s development.

Experts last night said the cheap treatment ‘holds incredible promise’ for the 100,000 in the UK who have MS.

It affects twice as many women as men and causes mobility loss, sight problems, fatigue and pain.

Hundreds of multiple sclerosis sufferers will be given statins in a six-year £6 million trial to see if the drugs could delay the crippling symptoms of the disease

An early trial suggested the rate of brain shrinkage was halved among MS patients who took statins – which are usually used to reduce cholesterol. But that study, published three years ago, only involved 140 patients.

Now experts at University College London are launching a six-year trial, involving 1,180 patients at 30 hospitals across the UK.

The £6million project, which will be funded by the NHS National Institute for Health Research and the MS Society, offers hope of the first effective treatment for patients with secondary progressive MS – an advanced stage of the illness.

In the early stages, patients normally experience ‘relapsing-remitting MS’, where their condition gets worse and then stabilises in fits and starts.

Around half of those patients develop secondary progressive MS within 15 to 20 years, at which point there is no let-up in their decline and they progressively lose muscular function and become more disabled.

100,000 people in the UK have MS. The disease affects twice as many women as men and causes mobility loss, sight problems, fatigue and pain

There are currently no licensed treatments that can slow or stop the progression of disability progression of this type of MS.

The trial will assess a common type of statin called simvastatin – which costs just 7p per pill – taken once a day.

Nearly 600 patients, half the group, will get the simvastatin, while the remainder will receive a dummy ‘placebo’ pill. Neither the patient nor the doctors will know which patient is on which.

Study leader Dr Jeremy Chataway, of the UCL Institute of Neurology, said: ‘This drug holds incredible promise for the thousands of people living with secondary progressive MS in the UK, and around the world, who currently have few options for treatments that have an effect on disability.

‘This study will establish definitively whether simvastatin is able to slow the rate of disability progression over a three-year period, and we are very hopeful it will.’

Michelle Mitchell of the MS Society said: ‘This is a momentous step forward in our quest to find an effective treatment for progressive MS.’

During MS the body’s immune system malfunctions and, instead of warding off disease, attacks the nerves and brain.

Patients typically start experiencing symptoms in their 20s and 30s, which include fatigue, sight loss, incontinence and disability. Until now drugs have only targeted symptoms. Statins are already taken by 6million in Britain every day to reduce cholesterol and ward off heart disease, and are proven to be safe with relatively few side effects.

MS patient Stuart Nixon, 52, from Newport in Wales, said: ‘People like me are living with the prospect of our condition getting worse each day. This is the most exciting opportunity to change how we manage progressive MS.’

In the earlier trial, reported in the Lancet in 2014, patients who took statins for two years showed signs the disease was progressing more slowly than those who took a placebo.

Their brains shrunk by 0.3 per cent a year, compared to the 0.6 per cent among those on placebo.


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