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New clinical trial offers hope for people with multiple sclerosis

The first multiple sclerosis (MS) clinical trial to focus only on people who can’t walk is to start recruiting.

To date, clinical trials for MS have not included people who are reliant on a wheelchair and drugs have only been licensed if they improve walking ability.

The ChariotMS trial will test whether cladribine tablets (Mavenclad®), can slow the rate of upper limb disability progression in people with advanced MS. If successful, it could lead to the first MS drug licensed that protects upper limb function.

From January 2021, ChariotMS will recruit 200 people with MS who can walk only a short distance with two crutches, or are unable to walk at all but retain some upper limb function. 

Professor Klaus Schmierer, from Queen Mary University of London and Barts Health NHS Trust, is leading the trial. He said:

Finding ways to maintain people’s upper limb function is essential to their quality of life, but until now walking ability has been the only official measurement of whether or not an MS treatment is effective. This has excluded people who depend on a wheelchair from taking part in trials and, as a result, from accessing effective treatment that will help maintain their hand and arm function.

Dr Emma Gray, Assistant Director of Research at the MS Society, says:

More than 130,000 people live with MS in the UK, and those with more advanced forms can experience difficulty with walking, relying on mobility aids like walking sticks and wheelchairs to help. But as MS progresses, many go on to experience problems with their hand and arm function too – and treatment options start to disappear. Preserving hand and arm function would unquestionably improve the quality of life of people with MS, helping them to live more independent lives.

Jenny Ferguson, 63, lives in Norwich. She was first diagnosed with MS in 1994, age 37. The former midwife became reliant on a wheelchair around seven years ago, and today her only limb function is in her right arm and hand.

Jenny said: 

I worry a lot about losing the use of my right hand . When MS meant I had to stop working, I started painting. I think without painting there would be virtually no purpose to my day at all.

Being excluded from treatment and trials, and then being told there is nothing for you is very discouraging. We deserve to have the same hope as everyone else. Having a treatment that could preserve the use of my hand would make such a tremendous difference to my life – it would be huge.

Photo: MS Society