An experimental drug called Ocrelizumab has shown promise in a Phase 2 clinical trial involving 220 people with multiple sclerosis (MS), an often debilitating, chronic autoimmune disease that affects an increasing number of people in North America. It usually strikes young adults and is more common in women than in men. The study, carried out by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center, and involving hospitals in the United States, Canada, and Europe, was published online on November 1, 2011 in the British medical journal Lancet. The study involved patients with relapsing-remitting MS, a form of the disease marked by the accumulation of lesions in the brain and spinal cord and periodic “attacks” of neurological impairment. The 220 patients were randomly enrolled into four groups – two that received injections of the monoclonal antibody Ocrelizumab at two different doses, one that received the standard multiple sclerosis drug interferon-beta, and one “control” group that was given a placebo. The doctors gauged the effectiveness of each treatment by performing monthly magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans of the patients and counting the number of visible marks that indicate inflamed lesions, a hallmark of the disease. They also compared the severity and frequency of neurological “attacks” that cause loss of vision, incoordination, weakness and numbness, among other symptoms. The results of this trial showed that patients who received the drug generally fared well and showed fewer signs of the disease than patients who receive a placebo or the standard interferon treatment. Overall, the trial found that Ocrelizumab led to a 89 percent reduction in the formation of brain lesions, and it also reduced the number of new MS attacks over 24 weeks.
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