Monday, November 5, 2012


Tim Coetzee, PhD
Chief Research Officer, National MS Society

Now that the dust has settled after the whirlwind of activities surrounding the European Committee for Research and Treatment in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS) meeting, I’ve had a chance think about some of the 1,250-some presentations that got me and my team excited.

Some people have asked me why this meeting is such a big deal. ECTRIMS is the world’s largest meeting dedicated to research in MS. This year, more than 7,000 investigators gathered in Lyon, France, to share their ideas, solutions and progress.

I was especially excited to hear promising results from treatment trials in progressive MS. One trial tested high doses of simvastatin in people with secondary-progressive MS. This is a pill that is usually used to treat high cholesterol. After 2 years, people on simvastatin had much less brain tissue loss than those who took placebo, and they also had slower progression. A small study involving people with progressive MS treated with Tysabri was also promising those who completed the study had signs in their spinal fluid of possible benefit, and also some slowing of brain tissue loss. And a large, phase III trial of Tysabri in people with secondary-progressive MS is also underway.

I was also intrigued by some of the clues that may help us understand the risk factors associated with MS. Some studies focused on the “microbiome” of the intestines that may be controlling immune responses. To me, this suggests that in the future we may even be able to stop disease through probiotic foods.

Another study of note involves a protein called “KIR4.1.” It turns out almost half of people who have MS have immune responses to this protein, which is found in brain tissues. It might be a trigger of immune attacks, and might represent a new target for treatment strategies.

Who knew that rehabilitation may actually rewire your brain? I think this growing area of research is really exciting, and it’s being fueled by new imaging technology that gives us a better window into brain functions.

Maybe the best thing about a meeting like ECTRIMS is the momentum it creates. The halls and poster sessions were filled with young investigators exchanging ideas.  The energy and enthusiasm was inspiring!

If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to check out the videos, blogs, and summary to get a better sense of some of the hottest topics in MS research.  


  1. BBC reports that a promising MS drug has not been approved in Europe and the US because of its pricing. Should MS patients be deprived of a potential drug because of a price war between the health agencies and the drug manufacturer? Here is the report I read.

    1. The drug hasn't been approved yet as it is still in the clinical trial stage. But the concern is that a drug which is used to treat leukemia at a cost of $12,000 per year will be rebranded for MS at a lower dose at a price of up to $60,000 per year. Any agency funding this medication, whether government of private insurer, will question the use of the drug due to this cost.