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Cholesterol Drug Might Help Slow MS Progression

Early study showed reduced brain shrinkage among multiple sclerosis patients given generic statin

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When the researchers compared MRIs taken at the start of the trial with those taken two years later, they found that patients taking Zocor showed a 0.3 percent overall reduction in the rate of brain shrinkage each year.

"Normally brain shrinkage occurs in progressive MS at about 0.6 percent per year, and high-dose Zocor reduced that over two years by about 43 percent," Chataway said.

Chataway, now a consultant neurologist at University College London Hospital, said he believes Zocor might be protective of brain tissue or circulation in the brain.

To be of real benefit to patients, Zocor has to have an effect on the progression of disability, not just brain shrinkage, Chataway said. "We need to move on to phase 3 trials to show it has a clear effect on disability," he said.

"This may be the first step toward treatment in secondary progressive MS for which there is no treatment. It's the first step, but a very exciting step," Chataway said. "But I don't want everyone to go out there and start Zocor."

In addition to reducing brain shrinkage, there were modest improvements in clinical symptoms as rated by doctors and reported by patients, the study found.

In the early stages of MS, patients experience intermittent symptoms, called relapsing-remitting MS.

Within 10 to 15 years, more than half of patients develop secondary progressive MS. This involves a steady worsening of symptoms and an increase in disability. No drugs have shown a positive effect in this chronic stage of the disease, the researchers said.

Simvastatin, the generic form of Zocor, costs about $5 to $10 for 30 pills. It's covered by most insurance plans, including Medicare.

Perhaps slowing brain shrinkage will also slow the progression of disability, said Dr. Karen Blitz, director of the North Shore-LIJ Multiple Sclerosis Center, in East Meadow, N.Y. "That's key," she said. "That's what we need to find out."

Blitz said other cholesterol-lowering drugs might work as well as Zocor. However, she isn't advising patients to start taking Zocor to slow the progression of MS before a bigger phase 3 trial is done.

"Patients of mine who have high cholesterol should probably consider taking Zocor now because there could be an added benefit," she said.

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