I am often asked a simple question that has no single, easy answer: What are the big breakthroughs that lie ahead?
And while there is no single silver bullet that will whisk us to a cure, there is a lot happening that will propel us faster and further along the ‘pathways to cures’.
Six things stand out.
Pathways to Cures
This is the title of a new, widely agreed international research roadmap that will help align, coordinate and accelerate global MS research. A series of meetings are being held this year, with MS Australia playing a prominent part, to take this work forward.
The focus is on three key elements:
- Stop MS through early detection, individualised treatment and lifestyle strategies
- Restore lost function through remyelination and rehabilitation
- End MS by reducing risk factors and guidance for those most at risk
Next generation DMTs
A new generation of disease modifying therapies – BTK Inhibitors – are in stage 2 and 3 clinical trials around the globe, including Australia. These have the potential to offer new medications that can better target inflammation with fewer side-effects. Some trial results are expected to be published later this year. Once proven effective, we will work to have these on the PBS and widely available as soon as possible.
We are currently seeking financial support for our proposed ‘Platypus’ clinical trials program to see if existing medications used for other diseases can be repurposed as effective treatments for progressive forms of MS. We want to work in collaboration with the Octopus program, which is now underway in the UK. By working collaboratively using an adaptive approach to clinical trials, we hope to accelerate our search for an effective DMT for primary and secondary MS. We are also active members of the International Progressive MS Alliance, supporting global efforts to find effective treatments for progressive MS.
Remyelination and repair
We already know the body has some capacity to replace myelin around nerve cells destroyed by MS, but this diminishes over time. Finding ways to promote remyelination and repair damaged nerves is the holy grail in MS research. We are funding exciting remyelination research here in Australia and are looking to increase our support in the years ahead.
As I write, applications are due for an MRFF grant round for a research project to help develop treatments for, and vaccines to prevent, infection by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a risk factor common to all people with MS. Putting an end to EBV will, it’s believed, be a pathway to ending MS. We are pleased to have promoted the case to invest in EBV research to the Australian Government, a move that has resulted in the $18m MRFF EBV grant opportunities.
There is a strong case that the ultimate ‘cure’ for MS will be achieved by stopping MS before it starts through effective prevention programs. Work is underway on how this might be achieved, possibly through the identification of those at high risk followed by early intervention to stop people from developing MS in the first place.
There are, of course, other exciting developments in the pipeline. One thing you can count on is this. With your help and support, we can and will bring about more and more breakthroughs until we ultimately have the cure.