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UVA Offers MS Medication Trial as Part of National Network for Brain Care

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The University of Virginia Health System is now part of a national network designed to explore new treatments for neurological diseases.

The first clinical trial UVA is taking part in tests whether one medication for progressive multiple sclerosis will work.

NeuroNEXT, which stands for the Network for Excellence in Neuroscience Clinical Trials, is made up of 28 hospitals across the country. UVA is the only member in the mid-Atlantic region.

Doctors hope they can stay on top of the latest research for promising drugs and devices through this collaboration.

"It's a disease that affects the immune system, where the immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord instead of behaving in a normal fashion," said Dr. Myla Goldman, director of UVA's James Q. Miller Multiple Sclerosis Clinic.

The disease has two typical presentations – one is relapsing-remitting where patients have symptoms and they get better and they have symptoms and the other is what we call progressive MS."

Goldman says more testing is needed to help patients whose condition gets worse over time.

She said, "There are no approved therapies for progressive MS, so we're studying a drug in progressive patients, which is a really critical need in patients dealing with multiple sclerosis."

Doctors at UVA currently use a variety of tests to measure the effects of MS including a timed 25-foot walk. Now they are part of a national clinical trial network to determine whether medication for progressive MS is effective.

The NeuroNEXT network is sponsored by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health.

"They decided to develop a network around the country of sites who have demonstrated capability of doing clinical trials in patients with neurological disease in both adults and children," said Dr. Clarke Haley, principal investigator for NeuroNEXT at UVA. "It's a network then for doing early phase clinical trials of promising treatments."

UVA Health System is enrolling patients in a two-year study to look at the effectiveness of a new medication called ibudilast.

Goldman said, "In this particular study, we're allowing patients to continue on their traditional MS therapy. So they're staying on their normal treatment, but we're adding this on top of it, and in following those two groups over time, we'll be able to tell whether or not the ibutilast group behaves better or does better than the other group."

The SPRINT-MS trial will measure the results by using brain imaging to examine loss of brain tissue in patients.

"The aim is to do a number of different clinical trials in neurologic disease fairly quickly and the ones that are promising - keep them moving through the pipeline," Haley said.

"One of the important things about the network is that it takes drugs that have the potential for benefit but might have otherwise been neglected by a pharmaceutical company and brings them into the research marketplace where we can then determine whether or not there is benefit," Goldman said.

The open clinical trial at UVA is assessing the medication in adults ages 21-65 with progressive MS. For more information about enrolling, contact Stephanie Lowenhaupt at (434) 982-6961 or sal3q@virginia.edu.

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