Cholesterol Drug Might Help Slow MS Progression
Early study showed reduced brain shrinkage among multiple sclerosis patients given generic statin
Moreover, if clinical symptoms aren't improved with treatment, it makes the use of the drug problematic, Waubant said.
"It's one thing if you slow down progression of brain atrophy, but if it doesn't translate into improvement in clinical outcomes for patients, it may not be useful," she said. "If it's real, that would be great."
For the new phase 2 study, a team lead by Dr. Jeremy Chataway, who at the time of the study was at Imperial College London, randomly assigned 140 MS patients to receive either 80 milligrams of Zocor a day or a placebo.
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.