College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Trials aim to find drugs for MS

Scientists are soon to begin trials to test whether existing drugs for a range of conditions could be used to treat multiple sclerosis.

The study will look at drugs developed to treat motor neurone disease (MND), heart disease and asthma.

It is being run by the University of Edinburgh and University College London.

This is a landmark study that seeks to not only test three potential treatments but also showcase a new approach to clinical trials for progressive neurological conditions.

Professor Siddharthan ChandranChair of Neurology, University of Edinburgh


Up to 15 UK trial sites have been identified, to compare already licensed drugs against a placebo in 440 patients with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis.

Participants, who have a late stage progressive form of multiple sclerosis, will be monitored for two years.

The drugs being used in the trial are amiloride (licensed to treat heart disease), ibudilast (asthma) and riluzole (MND).

The study - called the MS-SMART trial - is supported by the Multiple Sclerosis Society.


Researchers will use MRI scans and other clinical measures to test for signs of MS disease progression.

If successful, the drugs will be the first ever disease modifying treatment for people with secondary progressive MS.

This would revolutionise the way MS is treated in the UK and around the world.


The three drugs for the trial were identified after a systematic review of previously published research of potentially neuro-protective treatments.

Research funded by the MS Society developed methods and techniques for the trial.

The MS Society will also analyse MRI scans from the trial.

People with MS have lived for years in hope that one day we will find an effective treatment for secondary progressive MS; this trial, although still early stage, takes us one step closer to make that hope a reality.

Dr Susan KohlhaasHead of Biomedical Research at the MS Society

Multiple Sclerosis

MS is a neurological condition where the immune system attacks myelin, a substance surrounding the nerves.

This leads to delay and confusion in messages sent from the brain and spinal cord to parts of the body.

Symptoms include problems with walking, balance, speech, vision and extreme fatigue.

There are 100,000 people with MS in the UK but currently no treatments to prevent the condition from worsening.

While there are an increasing number of treatments for MS that can reduce the frequency or severity of MS relapses, there’s nothing that can stop the rapid accumulation of disability in people with secondary progressive MS; it’s a huge unmet need in the treatment of the condition, and despite many clinical trials, scientists have so far failed to find anything that works. Consultant Neurologist at University College London

Dr Jeremy ChatawayConsultant Neurologist at University College London

MS-SMART is an investigator led project sponsored by University College London (UCL).

This independent research is awarded by the Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation Programme (EME) and funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the MS Society).

It is managed by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) on behalf of the MRC-NIHR partnership.