“Astonishing” growth in the amount of research on multiple sclerosis over the last 10 years has resulted in a bulging late-stage pipeline of potential new therapies for the condition, a report by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has found.

MS is the most common disabling condition of the central nervous system in young adults, with around 2,500 new cases diagnosed each year. The condition is caused by damage to myelin - the protective sheath surrounding nerve fibres of the central nervous system - which interferes with messages between the brain and the body. Aside from the obvious burden on patients, MS has a substantial economic price tag, with related costs overshooting £30,000 a year per person.

Treatment options are still somewhat limited, but according to the ABPI’s Target Multiple Sclerosis report, the number of promising candidates in the research pipeline has given rise to a marked improvement in treatment prospects, although it does stress that the current situation “will not change overnight”.

There are sound reasons for the estimated 85,000 UK patients with MS to be optimistic, the ABPI says, citing: oral drugs that may reduce the need for frequent injections; the testing of several agents for progressive forms of the condition, for which there are few treatment options; and agents that work by new mechanisms among the most promising advances.

“Multiple sclerosis is an excellent example of how advances in medicines are usually made in steps,” said Dr Richard Barker, Director General of the ABPI. “It’s just a dozen years since the first medicine to treat MS was licensed, and now there is a large number of these in development.”

Call for better care
Meanwhile, the MS Society is backing a call for better care for MS patients, after new research found that 82% of people with neurological conditions are being left in the dark about their illnesses.

Results of the Taking Control survey, published jointly by the Neurological Alliance, the ABPI and Ask About Medicines, show that the healthcare system is failing patients by not ensuring they get access to “appropriate information and specialist advice”. Furthermore, the survey found that only 44% of patients believe they getting the right care.

The MS Society is a member of the Neurological Alliance, which has now linked arms with the ABPI and Ask About Medicines to launch a campaign detailing the basic conditions people with neurological conditions can expect:

- To be treated by health professionals who attach priority to giving information to patients;
- To leave the appointment at which they receive their diagnosis with an 'information prescription' including contact details of a relevant patient organisation; and
- To have a single, well informed and accessible point of contact for on-going information about their condition and treatment.

"The effective provision of information is vital for partnership between healthcare professionals and patients - with effects ranging from the psychological benefits of accepting and understanding what is happening to them, to empowering people to actively share in their care,” said the ABPI’s Dr Richard Tiner.