Ice bucket challenge-funded drug trial gives ALS sufferers new hope

CALGARY – Richard McBride remembers the exact moment he was hit with an ALS diagnosis.

“November 22, 2012 at three in the afternoon,” he said with a sigh.  “I can remember every little bit of that afternoon, especially the moment when the neurologist walks in the door and says, ‘You have an illness for which there is no treatment, no cure and will probably kill you in 36 months.’”

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive neuromuscular illness. The disease causes permanent and progressive muscle paralysis throughout the body.  Ninety per cent of patients die within five years.

READ MORE: What is ALS? The disease behind the ice bucket challenge

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“At this time we have supportive treatments where we can help people be more comfortable, but we don’t have any meaningful treatment to prolong life,” said Dr. Lawrence Korngut, director of Calgary’s ALS Clinic.

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Korngut is hopeful a new clinical trial will change that.  Money raised from the ice bucket challenges across Canada is allowing Korngut’s team to test Pimozide, an anti-psychotic drug that is showing promise treating ALS in animals.

“It seemed to be quite effective in zebra fish and worms,” Korgut explained.  “It basically reversed the ALS for a prolonged period of time." 

The Canadian team is now recruiting 100 patients from eight ALS clinics across Canada.  The two-year trial is expected to begin within six months.

McBride doesn’t yet know if he’ll be eligible to participate in the trial, but the possibility gives him hope.

In Canada, the ice bucket challenge raised over $16.2 million for ALS Canada.  Ten million of that has been set aside for research.  Brain Canada, a federal funding agency, has also contributed $10 million towards ALS research.


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