Drugs trial offers new hope for Edinburgh MS sufferer

A Scot who is taking part in the largest ever trial for secondary progressive multiple sclerosis has spoken of the 'huge boost' he initially received even though he may be on a placebo drug.
Stephen Ritchie discusses the effect of his treatment. Picture: Neil HannaStephen Ritchie discusses the effect of his treatment. Picture: Neil Hanna
Stephen Ritchie discusses the effect of his treatment. Picture: Neil Hanna

Stephen Ritchie, started the groundbreaking MS-STAT2 trial in November last year. It aims to confirm whether simvastatin could become one of the first drugs to slow or stop the disability’s progression – offering hope to thousands of people living with the condition.

The 49-year-old, was first diagnosed with MS in 1997 and had to quit his job as a collections adviser two years ago. Ritchie, from Edinburgh, told Scotland on Sunday the double blind trial means half the 1,180 participants with secondary progressive MS will take the drug and the others will be on the placebo.

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He said: “I take two tablets a day, but I don’t know the exact dosage. But it’s a double-blind placebo trial, so you don’t know if you’re on the real drug or not.

“I get the tablets at home and get checked out every couple of months.

“This may sound like desperation, but I told myself I’m going to be a lot better and I didn’t care if I was going to be taking the placebo or not.

“It did have quite a dramatic improvement in the first week – my balance was a lot better, but it was very shortlived unfortunately.”

Ritchie added: “If you’ve got progressive MS, the human side of it is that you’re not going to get any better as it stands.

“To be able to participate in a trial, at something aimed at progressive MS is very positive, whether it works or not, but the fact that I’m getting involved helps.

“If this drug works, brilliant – if not, it will be the next one or the one after that. The fact they’ve got a clinic now and they’re doing trials and research on it means it’s only a matter of time before they find a cure.”

The multi-million-pound trial is being funded by the MS Society along with partners including the National Institute for Health Research, and will see 30 sites across the UK and Ireland recruit participants until the end of 2019.

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It will take six years to complete in order to show long-term benefits to people with progressive MS.

Positive results from a smaller trial showed simvastatin – currently used to treat high cholesterol – could improve levels of disability and slow disease progression.

It also reduced the amount of brain atrophy (shrinkage).

Ritchie started the trial after speaking to The Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic, a charitable University of Edinburgh research facility founded by author JK Rowling in memory of her mother.

He added: “I believe I’m on the real drug, purely because of the results of a blood count done on me at the hospital during a check-up. Somebody at the hospital said that would be because I was on the drug.

“It leaves me feeling that I must be on something – I don’t feel as bad as I was when I started the drug.”

MS affects over 100,000 people in the UK, and most expect to develop a progressive form of the condition. If someone’s MS symptoms become progressively worse over a period of at least six months, they are said to have moved on to secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. Morna Simpkins, director of MS Society Scotland, said: “We are incredibly proud to be co-funding MS-STAT2 because we know what it could mean for people living with progressive MS.

“This condition is unpredictable, painful, and often exhausting, but finding an effective therapy means debilitating symptoms aren’t inevitable.

“Today if you’re diagnosed with progressive MS you don’t have any options, but we’re getting closer to changing that, and hopefully delivering the solution everyone has been waiting for.

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“We’d encourage people who think they could benefit to consider joining the trial and help Stop MS in its tracks.”

Dr Peter Connick, MS-STAT2 project investigator at the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic, University of Edinburgh, said: “We are delighted to be participating in this major clinical trial that aims to change the treatment landscape for people with secondary progressive MS.

“Developing treatments to slow, stop, or reverse disease progression in MS is the number one priority for both patients and the research community, so it is exciting to be part of clinical research that aims to achieve this ambitious goal.”