Sept. 25, 2002 -- The latest generation of arthritis drugs may slow the progression of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Research shows the Cox-2 inhibitor Celebrex -- already proved safe and effective for relieving arthritis pain and inflammation -- can also delay symptoms and prolong survival in mice with ALS. And tests in humans are under way.
ALS is a little-understood, always fatal disorder in which the nerve cells that control muscle function slowly deteriorate. Over time, patients develop weakness, muscle spasms, and tremors, eventually becoming paralyzed. Most die within 10 years of diagnosis, about half within three years. And right now, there is no cure.
Hoping to speed research along, Jeffrey D. Rothstein, MD, PhD, and colleagues at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins School of Medicine decided to look only at drugs already FDA approved for human use. That way, he says in a news release, "if we found something to be effective in the animal model, we could then move rapidly into clinical trials -- and that's exactly what happened."
Among the drugs they tested was Celebrex. When they gave it to mice genetically engineered to develop ALS, the animals showed dramatically delayed onset of muscle weakness and weight loss. Plus, they had significantly less spinal nerve cell deterioration and lived 25% longer than did untreated mice.
Because Celebrex is already approved for use in the U.S., says Rothstein, human trials began right away. Initial results of the first study -- investigating whether Celebrex slows progression of the human form of the disease -- should be available in about a year.
There is only one drug -- Rilutek -- approved for treating ALS, and it provides only modest benefits. Patients are advised to get regular exercise to maintain their muscle strength and stave off debilitating cramps and spasms.