A new multiple sclerosis clinical trials unit being set up in Glasgow which will give Scots sufferers access to cutting edge medical treatments for the disease has been welcomed by patients and specialists.
Scotland is home to one of the highest incidences of multiple sclerosis (MS) in the world with more than 10,000 people affected.
The new clinical trials unit will give research into the debilitating condition a much needed boost thanks to funding from the Chief Scientist Office (CSO) of the Scottish Government Health and Social Care Directorates as part of a national initiative called NHS Research Scotland (NRS).
NHS Greater Glashow and Clyde Consultant Neurologist, James Overell, based at the Institute of Neuroscience at the Southern General in Glasgow, has been awarded a three-year NRS Career Research Fellowship to test new treatments for MS. Further support for these trials will come via NRS Infrastructure funding allocated to the Health Board by CSO.
Dr Overell explained: “This is a very exciting time in MS research and there are many opportunities to try new drugs that are proving to be effective with less risk and fewer side effects. Our MS patients deserve the choice to try these new treatment options. For some who are experiencing the secondary progressive part of the condition, trials for new drugs are their only option.
“In Scotland we have the highest incidence of MS in the world. We have a large number of patients and drug companies want to come here – we really do have the opportunity to do some amazing work and help people try new therapies and to tackle this degenerative disease.”
One of the patients who hopes to benefit from the new clinical trials unit is 37-year-old Suzanne McLean who is expecting her first child in August. Suzanne who lives in Coatbridge explained: “Having MS and hoping to find something which will delay or even cure symptoms has become more of an issue since becoming pregnant, obviously I want to be able to do all the things that every mum does with her baby and I want to be able to think ahead to when my child is growing up. I want to be able to run around after them.
“Having MS hasn’t stopped me from doing things, I‘ve just tried to keep going and just live my life. But the trials unit is very important as we need to test new drugs and therapies to give more options to people like me now and in the future.”
Sadly it is not at all uncommon for people to be diagnosed with MS in young adult life, when Dr Overell points out they are becoming established in careers, getting married and starting families.
“I can diagnose up to five people a week with the condition. But their main concern often is not always for the here and now but what will happen to them later in life. Will they be in a wheelchair by the time they are 50?”
Dr Overell continued: “We have seen in recent years that more drugs are available to help with the relapse and remission stage of the disease and people can stay in this stage for 20 years before moving into secondary progression. We need to start looking at these newer drugs to see whether if taken earlier or for longer they could have an impact in delaying secondary progression. We also need to look at developing drugs specifically to treat this secondary part of the disease.”
The announcement was welcomed by the Cabinet Secretary for Health Alex Neil who said: “The Scottish Government recognises that Multiple Sclerosis is a debilitating condition that has significant impact on the Scottish people, and is committed to providing the best possible care and support for people living with MS. Providing access to clinical trials for MS patients, through Dr Overell’s Fellowship, is part of that commitment.”
While there is no guarantee that the experimental treatments offered through the trials will have positive outcomes, it is well recognised that patients who are part of clinical trials contribute to research overall and can help improve outcomes for others. That is why the Chief Scientist Office is investing £6m over four years to support 67 NRS Clinical Research Fellows in a wide range of clinical areas, so that as many patients are offered the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial in the relevant condition.
Scotland already has a research centre in Edinburgh for Multiple Sclerosis, the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurogology Clinic, which is conducting pre-clinical research into many potentially beneficial therapies for MS. Dr Overell sees this work as being essential and complementary to the new Unit in Glasgow.
“What we hope to do is take the lab based work and evolve it into clinical trials, and work in partnership with the Anne Rowling Centre to come up with a Scottish solution to this problem which affects so many of our population.
“The Unit will be able to give patients access to experimental treatments first and faster, although it must be recognised that these are research studies, and any positive outcomes may take some years to be taken up as standard clinical practice. The majority of people we see affected by MS are well-informed people who know there are new treatments out there. They’ve been frustrated for years that they don’t have the opportunity to take part in trial programmes to try and sustain their quality of life longer.
“Unlike a lot of other illnesses for which there are no new drug options available, MS is a growth area and with this funding from the Chief Scientist Office, we can have time to build something which could make real headway into helping people with MS live the lives they want, and deserve, for longer.”
For more information contact the press office, tel: 0141 201 4429 or email: [email protected]
Notes to editors
Dr James Overell is available for interview between 12noon and 1:30pm on Thursday 30 May. Patient Suzanne McLean is also available for interview by arrangement with the press office.