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Cancer Drug Works Against MS in Early Trial
Date:2/13/2008

Promising results need to be replicated in larger study, experts caution

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 13 (HealthDay News) -- A drug originally designed to combat cancer that is now being used to treat autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus might also work against a common form of multiple sclerosis.

In new research published in the Feb. 14 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers reported that one treatment with rituximab significantly reduced the number of inflammatory lesions in the brains of people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS), and almost halved the incidence of relapse for up to 48 weeks.

"The immediate results of this study should give great hope to all of us in the field and to our patients," said study author Dr. Stephen Hauser, chairman of the department of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco. "An easily-administered, relatively safe IV therapy might have a very important, profound effect on the relapsing-remitting phase of MS."

However, Hauser was quick to caution, "these results are preliminary and should not be translated into a belief that a new proven therapy has been identified." He said that larger, longer studies need to be done to fully assess the drug's safety and efficacy in people with MS.

"We are cautiously optimistic," Dr. John Richert, executive vice president of research and clinical programs for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, said of the findings. "It's hard to imagine results any better than this, but right now, we don't have any long-term data on safety or efficacy."

MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. Instead of targeting foreign invaders, such as bacteria, the body mistakenly attacks the protective covering of nerve cells called myelin.

Most research has focused on the T-cell side of the immune system, but other studies began to suggest that
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