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EXCLUSIVE: Experts, patients call for more treatment options for progressive MS

WATCH: Experts are urging Health Canada to fast track the approval process for a drug that can help patients with multiple sclerosis. As Global's Anne Leclair reports, the drug has already been approved in the U.S.

One week after a Montreal man went public, urging Health Canada to approve a new drug for multiple sclerosis, more patients and physicians are now coming forward and calling for more treatment options. The new drug in question may not be the ideal therapy for all forms of MS, but it offers hope to patients who until now have had few treatment options.

Primary and secondary progressive multiple sclerosis are the most debilitating forms of MS for patients and the hardest to treat for physicians.

“The progressive MS element is the one that is still the most resistant,” Montreal Neurological Institute researcher and McGill University professor of neurology Dr. Jack Antel said. “We have to gain more in understanding how the brain works not only the immune system so we can deal with this very serious disorder.”

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READ MORE: Montrealer with MS calling on Health Canada to approve breakthrough drug Ocrevus

A Montreal man spoke out last week about his fight to bring a new FDA-approved drug called Ocrelizumab (Ocrevus) to Canada. It’s been available to patients in the U.S. since March. But it could take months before it’s available to Canadian patients. According to Health Canada the drug is subject to a 300-day scientific review period which started in October 2016.

“You know if this drug can halt the progress of MS it’s a good thing isn’t it, for me it is anyway,” 64-year-old Joe Petrilli told Global News last week.

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Another patient with primary progressive MS in the Maritimes is relieved to hear treatment may soon be an option. He’s been dealing with symptoms of progressive MS for 27 years.

“It’s gotten to the point where I can’t walk,” Jack MacDuff from Moncton, New Brunswick said. “I don’t expect it’s going to help me a lot but I think we have to keep working to help the younger generation.”

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MacDuff was once an accomplished athlete, bringing home the country’s top curling trophy, the Brier Cup in 1976. Ever since his diagnosis, he’s helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for the MS Society in the hopes research will help give future MS patients better outcomes.

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“It’s something we should really work on and try to encourage a cure for the next generation” MacDuff said.

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The MS society of Canada spends up to $10 million a year on research in the hopes of finding new treatment and ultimately a cure.

“Great results have been coming from the research we have funded — from stem cell research that we have funded, positive clinical trials in that area as well as recently positive clinical trial results in an antibiotic for the first event in MS,” MS Society of Canada vice-president research Dr. Karen Lee said.

READ MORE: Calgary clinic uses new technology to help people with spinal cord injuries, MS

Many researchers and neurologists wish Health Canada had fast-tracked the approval process, despite the medication’s high cost and despite the fact that it may not be the ideal drug for progressive forms of MS.

“I’m more concerned with the risk and toxicity of the drug rather than the cost of the drug for our patients,” Antel said.

Ocrevus is administered as a slow-drip intravenous injection and removes a key component of the immune system putting some patients at greater risk of infections or even cancer.

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Still it’s enough to give some hope to patients who until now have had none.

“The MS community around the world has done their job and now they’re giving it to the world saying OK approve it!” said Petrilli.

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