Doctors in Southampton trial cholesterol-lowering drug as a new treatment for secondary progressive multiple sclerosis

Pills in packets

Neurology specialists in Southampton are taking part in a pioneering study involving the use of a statin, that is normally used to lower cholesterol, to see if it can treat progressive multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological condition that can affect the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide range of symptoms including problems with vision, difficulty walking, muscle spasms and stiffness. It is one of the most common causes of disability in adults. Progressive MS develops after a period of relapsing-remitting MS.

Whilst there are several therapies for relapsing-remitting MS, there is currently no effective treatment to slow down secondary progressive MS.

Now, people with secondary progressive MS at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust are taking part in a landmark trial, MS-STAT2, to understand if simvastatin, a drug currently used to treat high cholesterol and prevent heart disease, can slow the progression of their condition.

Secondary progressive MS

While every person with MS is different, MS starts in one of two general ways – either with individual relapses or with gradual disease progression.

MS usually starts in its relapsing-remitting form, characterized by relapses, which are episodes of neurological dysfunction which improve. After a variable time, which can be as little as a couple of years or as long as decades, a slow gradual decline in neurological function may occur - this is called secondary progressive MS. Initially secondary progressive MS may overlap with relapses, which eventually stop occurring.

“Secondary progressive MS accounts for nearly 50% of MS prevalence in the community. We are doing our best to help people with this type of MS in Southampton, and MS-STAT2 is one such study. Whilst a variety of treatments is available for the relapsing-remitting form of MS, there are no effective treatments available for secondary progressive MS,” explains Dr Ian Galea, who leads a programme of research into progressive MS and is principle investigator on the MS-STAT2 study.

“If successful, simvastatin could be a safe cost-effective treatment for secondary progressive MS, providing new hope for people with this type of MS.”

Building on promising results

Although the brain naturally shrinks with age, in people with MS this process is accelerated and brain shrinkage, or atrophy, is used as an indicator of how fast the disease is progressing.

Positive results from a previous smaller-scale trial, published in the Lancet, showed a 43 per cent reduction in brain shrinkage per year in people with secondary progressive MS who took a high dose (80mg) of simvastatin daily, compared to a dummy tablet (placebo).

This latest study will involve over 1,000 patients from 30 sites across the UK and Ireland until the end of 2019. It is funded by the National Institute for Health Research, MS Society (UK), National MS Society (US), the NHS and UK universities.

If you have been diagnosed with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis and are interested in taking part in this study, please contact for more information.

Posted on Wednesday 29 May 2019