Calgary, AB – Hydroxychloroquine may not be a reliable treatment for COVID-19, but a new study finds it could find new use in treating the worst form of multiple sclerosis (MS). Researchers from the University of Calgary have found that the prescription drug can slow the worsening of symptoms of primary progressive multiple sclerosis.
This form of autoimmune disease is the least treatable version of a condition that affects approximately 200,000 Americans each year. MS causes the body’s immune system to attack the protective coverings around nerves in the brain and spinal cord. About 15% of cases are primary progressive MS, and patients with this version see their symptoms gradually worsen over time.
The new study tested the ability of hydroxychloroquine to slow the disabling effects of the disease over an 18-month study. The researchers followed 35 people with MS, tracking their progress from November 2016 to June 2021. The team expected that at least 40% of these patients (14 people) would experience a significant decline in their ability to walk, even after hydroxychloroquine treatments.
To their surprise, only eight participants saw their MS symptoms worsen.
“With primary progressive MS, there is no good treatment to stop or reverse the progression of the disease. The disability progressively worsens over time,” says Dr. Marcus Koch, a clinician-scientist in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences, in an academic statement.
“Dr. (Wee) Yong’s research team, with whom we work closely, has screened a large number of generic drugs for several years and the results with hydroxychloroquine are promising. Our trial is a preliminary success that requires further We hope that sharing these results will help inspire this work, especially larger clinical trials in the future.
What is hydroxychloroquine?
Originally, scientists created the drug to be an antimalarial drug. However, it is now a common treatment for managing symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases like lupus.
During the coronavirus pandemic, it has become a controversial treatment option for COVID-19. Previous studies have found conflicting evidence that the drug reduces COVID symptoms – with some finding the drug significantly reduces the risk of death from coronavirus infections and others finding it does not help at all.
“Based on research conducted in our lab on models of MS, we predicted that hydroxychloroquine would reduce disability in people with MS. Calgary has an aggressive bench-to-bedside MS program and the work from Dr. Koch’s trial provide further evidence that we were excited to see,” says Dr. Yong, a professor in the Department of Clinical Neuroscience.
The study is published in the journal Annals of Neurology.