Statin Drugs May Help Treat MS
Study Shows Lipitor Cuts Risk of Developing New Brain Lesions
April 15, 2010 (Toronto) -- Statin drugs show promise for the
treatment of multiple
sclerosis (MS), a small, preliminary study suggests.
Statin drugs are best known for their cholesterol-lowering effects. But the drugs "have
anti-inflammatory effects on immune cells as well, which is why we figured they
could be beneficial in MS," says study leader Scott Zamvil, MD, PhD, associate
professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco.
MS is an autoimmune disease in which the body's own immune cells
mistakenly recognize cells in the brain and spinal cord as foreign and attack
them. This leaves behind scars or lesions and disrupts the ability of
nerves to transmit information, resulting in disability.
In the new study of people with early forms of multiple sclerosis, the
statin drug Lipitor cut the risk of developing new brain
lesions by about 50% compared with placebo. New lesions are reliable
indicators of future MS attacks, according to the researchers.
The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of
Lipitor Cuts Risk of Developing New MS Lesions
The researchers had intended to study more than 150 people who had their
first MS attack, but enrollment was stopped due to slow recruitment after 81
patients entered the trial.
The study failed to meet its primary goal, which was to show that Lipitor
could prevent a second attack or the development of three or more new brain
lesions as viewed on MRI scans within a year.
That was "because we didn't have sufficient patients to show such an
effect," Zamvil tells WebMD. "But on an important imaging measure, we were able
to show a significant benefit," he says.
Specifically, the study showed that over a 12-month period, 55% of people
given Lipitor had no new brain lesions compared with 28% of the placebo
Statins and MS: Where Do We Go From Here?
So should the research proceed to a larger study? Zamvil says that it would
be difficult to embark on another study pitting statins against placebo, as
several oral medications that attack MS at its roots have been shown to be
effective since this study was undertaken.
But, says Nicholas G. LaRocca, PhD, it might be worthwhile to mount a study
using statins in combination with the new MS drugs, known as
cladribine and fingolimod. LaRocca, vice president for health care delivery
and policy research at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in New York
City, was not involved with the study.
"We don't want to miss out on something beneficial just because the primary
[goal] was not met," Zamvil says.
Statins have the benefit of being "very, very safe," he says. And once
Lipitor's patent expires in 2011, it will also be inexpensive, he says.
Based on the current findings, no one should consider taking statins --
alone or in combo with other drugs -- as a treatment for MS, LaRocca and Zamvil
Asked if all statin drugs have the same anti-inflammatory effects, Zamvil
says that studies in the lab suggest that Lipitor and Crestor outperform other
statins on this measure.
This study was sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious
Diseases with support from Biogen-Idec, the Nancy Davis Foundation, and
Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, the maker of Lipitor.