Do MS drugs change the course of the MS disease?

Professor Bruce Taylor

Menzies Institute for Medical Research, TAS

| Better treatments | Epidemiology | Project | 2016 | Investigator Led Research |


In Australia, MS disease modifying therapies have been available since 1996. These therapies have proven effectiveness at reducing relapse rates and MRI activity. However, it is not known if they alter the natural course of MS and ultimately prevent the longer term consequences of living with MS. For example, do those receiving treatment acquire less disability than people with MS that are untreated? In this unique, world first, natural history study, the outcomes of people with MS that are treated vs those that are untreated will be compared.

In Australia over 95% of MS patients are treated while up until very recently in New Zealand less than 20% are treated, and often much later in the disease. These differences are due to government restrictions on the supply of these expensive medications in New Zealand. In addition to disease outcomes, Professor Taylor and his colleagues will also undertake an economic study of the benefits of these medications at a population level.

Progress to Date

Using two well characterised populations in Australia (Australian MS Longitudinal Study) and New Zealand (the NZ MS Prevalence Study), Professor Taylor and his team have made significant progress. Using these longitudinal studies the team can compare disease outcomes over a 10-20 year time frame. To add to the data from these two studies, the team has also identified and begun contacting participants in both countries.

Data analysis methods have been developed and tested. This was a complicated process as some measures of disability were missing from the data acquired in the two studies, have changed over time and/or can be different between different MS clinics. The appropriate statistical methods have been identified and develop to help the researchers manage these differences in the data.

Preliminary analysis of this data is currently underway, and data has been collected on health outcomes, such as disability, quality of life, anxiety, and depression, as well as economic measure, like employment status. Cumulatively, this data will allow us to determine the long-term impact of disease modifying therapies on MS health outcomes.

A collaboration has also been established with a New Zealand economist, William Leung (University of Otago), who will be analysing the data on the direct and indirect costs of MS in NZ. This collaboration will result in the first cost of illness study on MS in NZ.

This research will help people with MS and their treating neurologists to understand the long-term benefits that can be expected from different MS therapies, determine which therapies are best suited to their individual circumstances. The data will also help researchers and clinicians identify what gaps in treatment are still present and need addressing.

Updated: 20 April 2018

Updated: 27 January, 2016



Grant Awarded

  •  Project Grant

Total Funding

  • $180,000


  • 2 years over 2016 - 2017

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Do MS drugs change the course of the MS disease?