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New UCalgary drug study shows promising treatment option for MS patients

A new UCalgary study shows promise for MS patients Jan. 14, 2021. Getty Images

A new study from the University of Calgary could bring hope for those suffering from a debilitating form of multiple sclerosis.

Researchers say the generic drug hydroxychloroquine is showing promise at slowing down disability in the least treatable form of the autoimmune disease.

Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malaria medication more commonly used to manage the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune conditions such as lupus. It was chosen because it is widely used in rheumatological diseases and generally well-tolerated.

Read more: Multiple sclerosis in Canada: Understanding why MS rates are the highest here

The experimental study followed 35 people between November 2016 and June 2021, with follow ups with each participant at six months and 18 months. Researchers expected to see at least 40 per cent experience a significant worsening of their walking function.

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But at the end of the trial, only eight participants had worsened.

“With primary progressive MS, there is no good treatment to stop or reverse the progression of disease. The disability progressively worsens through time,” said study co-lead Dr. Marcus Koch.

“Our trial is a preliminary success that needs further research. We hope sharing these results will help inspire that work, specifically larger scale clinical trials into the future.”

MS affects about 90,000 Canadians, with about 15 per cent of those diagnosed with primary progressive MS, one of the highest rates in the world.

Read more: Christina Applegate reveals multiple sclerosis diagnosis

It’s a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and is generally long-lasting, often affecting the brain, spinal cord and the optic nerves in the eyes. It can cause problems with vision, balance and muscle control, although the effects are different for everyone who has the disease.

The cause is unknown.

The research was published in Annals of Neurology.

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