Our research is focussed on finding better therapies for people with multiple sclerosis (MS) by optimising current treatments and developing new drugs for various forms of the disease.
Multiple sclerosis affects over 3500 New Zealanders. The chronic autoimmune disease causes nerve degeneration via a process of demyelination – damage to the myelin sheath around the nerves – and results in a gradual loss of feeling, movement, vision and cognition.
MS is a complicated disease. Not only do the symptoms vary from one person to another, but the disease has three distinct forms: a relapsing-remitting form and two progressive forms. Although over 14 different drugs are now available to treat the relapsing-remitting form, there is only one treatment for people with one form of the progressive disease.
Professor Anne La Flamme, School of Biological Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington, leads our MS research.
Her work is investigating the underlying mechanisms of the disease and working to develop new drugs for progressive disease. A new mouse model of progressive disease is now established at the Institute and is proving to be a valuable tool in understanding demyelination.
Why progressive MS and what is it? Most people when diagnosed with MS have the relapsing-remitting form of the disease. In this stage, people will experience “episodes” or “attacks” such as localized numbness, muscle twitching, pain, or fatigue. These “attacks” will resolve or “remit” but may occur again in the future. How severe these attacks are, how long they last, and how often they occur varies from person to person. In contrast to this form of MS, people with progressive forms will experience a steady deterioration and accumulation of disability. It is this progressive disease that has proven extremely difficult to treat. Until just recently there were no FDA approved drugs, now there is one available, but it is effective only in a subset of people with progressive disease.
In work with Innate Immunotherapeutics developing a new immune-based therapy for secondary progressive MS (MIS416), Anne and her team are investigating the major biological pathways that are critical for the drug to work. They are also looking for biomarkers that may link a beneficial response in a patient to a change in their immune system.
By tracking these changes, valuable information about which therapies would benefit particular groups of patients can be gained. MIS416 has just completed a Phase 2B clinical trial in Australia and New Zealand and we are eagerly awaiting results in late 2017.
We would like to acknowledge and thank The Great New Zealand Trek Charitable Trust and Trekking Events for their support of our MS research. In 2019, the GNZT finished its 14th and final leg of the trek, having raised over $450,000 towards our MS research programme. Being part of the Trek is always a special experience for Prof La Flamme, who often joined the trek with her daughter.
“I like to walk along with people so I can answer their questions about the research we’re doing, one on one. The Trek has supported our MS research directly since 2009 and maintains a real interest in what we do. We are so grateful to everyone involved. Their support has made a very significant contribution to our research programme over the years and enabled us to do things we couldn’t have dreamed of doing otherwise.”