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Lipitor-Copaxone Combo May Fight MS

Study With Mice Shows Statin and MS Drug May Prevent Paralysis From Multiple Sclerosis
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 16, 2006 - A combination of two currently approved drugs prevents and even reverses paralysis in mice with multiple sclerosis.

One of the drugs is the MS drug Copaxone. It's now approved for the treatment of relapsing-remitting MS.

The second drug is Lipitor, one of the group of so-called statin drugs. Lipitor and its sister drugs lower cholesterol levels. However, the anti-MS activity of Lipitor appears to be separate from its cholesterol-lowering action.

A team led by University of California, San Francisco researcher Scott S. Zamvil, MD, PhD, in 2002 reported that Lipitor has anti-MS actionLipitor has anti-MS action in mice. An NIH-sponsored clinical trial is now enrolling people with first-episode MS to see if Lipitor can prevent more serious disease.

Powerful Combo

Now Zamvil's team reports that low doses of Lipitor and Copaxone -- doses too low to have any effect by themselves -- pack a powerful anti-MS punch. The combination prevents paralysis in mice with an induced MS-like disease.

Perhaps even more impressive, the combination treatment reverses paralysis in these mice.

"We have two drugs that are relatively safe in people. At the preclinical level we have shown they have a marked effect on MS," Zamvil tells WebMD. "We hope that by testing this in clinical trials there may be an added benefit of these two drugs when given in combination."

Don't Try Drug Combo Yet

Zamvil warns patients not to try this combination at home.

"Caution is advised. Remember these results, though provocative, are based on animal studies," he says. "Statins, even though widely used, can be associated with liver and muscle damage. The general doses for treating cholesterol are the lower doses -- and here we are testing the highest FDA-approved doses. So MS patients on Copaxone should not go out and grab their statins."

MS expert Jerry S. Wolinsky, MD, professor of neurology at the University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center, echoes Zamvil's warning.

Wolinsky notes that an earlier trial of combination therapy for MS -- Tysabri and beta interferon -- seems to have resulted in a rare but deadly side effect. The deaths led to the removal of Tysabri from the market (although an FDA advisory panel recommends bringing back the drug with strict limits on its use).

"You cannot say just because it works in the mouse, it works in people," Wolinsky tells WebMD. "A lot of folks out there are on Copaxone. And they know about the statins. And they ask me, 'Gee, doc -- should I be on a statin?' I say, 'Only if your cholesterol is up. And only at the dose needed to get your cholesterol down. But I am not going to put you on a statin -- particularly at the doses that might work on MS -- given the known side effects in people at these doses.'"

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