The MS Society had announced that a world-first mega-trial for progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) will be launched in the UK later this year.

According to the charity, Octopus (named for its many arms) is “a revolutionary clinical trial that will transform the way treatments for progressive MS are tested – and could deliver desperately needed new options up to three times faster”.

Octopus will test several drugs – as opposed to just one – against a placebo at the same time, and will also combine what would normally be two consecutive trial phases into one, potentially rapidly speeding up the development of new treatments.

“More than 130,000 people live with MS in the UK and there are tens of thousands with progressive forms who have nothing to stop their MS getting worse. But we believe we can stop MS, and the launch of Octopus is a crucial moment in our journey towards that goal,” commented Dr Emma Gray, assistant director of Research at the MS Society.

“Octopus is a game changer for how MS clinical trials are run,” added Professor Olga Ciccarelli, a leading magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) expert in the field of MS who has been instrumental in developing Octopus.

“As well as testing many treatments at the same time with only one placebo arm, we’ll use an interim analysis of MRI scans to allow us to progress to the next stage much quicker. If scans show a treatment is slowing the rate of brain shrinkage, we can assume it will eventually slow disability worsening – and then investigate it with hundreds more participants. Any treatments not showing potential in the MRI analysis will be dropped, so we’re not wasting time or resource on treatments unlikely to be successful.

“Ultimately it’s a much more efficient trial, and a major step forward in the search for progressive MS treatments.”