Saturday, 23 September 2017

#ClinicSpeak: hospice care the underbelly of MS

Why is death and dying with MS such a taboo amongst MS stakeholders? #ClinicSpeak 

Summary: As multiple sclerosis advances people may enter a phase when the complications of MS become life-threatening. This phase is referred to as the terminal phase of MS. This post discusses a hotline service provided by the German MS Society to help German MSers with advice about palliative care and hospice.

Just over a year ago I bought a pair of rose-tinted glasses to improve my outlook on the world. Several commentators on the blog thought some of our posts were too morbid and not positive enough. I responded that we don't pull our punches and tell things as they are. If people don't want to know the truth they can go somewhere else; there are plenty of sights on the web dedicated to alternative facts. 

The following study addresses the underbelly of MS, its terminal phase. It describes the experience of a German MS hotline dedicated to palliative care and hospice care. The hotline received 222 calls over a 27 month period; i.e. ~8.2 calls per month. Germany is a large country with a population of ~83 million, therefore this is probably the tip of the MS iceberg. What this study shows is that there is a need for information and advice about terminal care. 

Just yesterday I was asked to comment about a person with MS who was locked-in and was being managed in an intensive care unit as a result of severe brainstem disease. This person was in her late 50's and had MS for ~20 years. The patient was conscious and was actually not quite locked in as she could still twitch one of her fingers. She was using this finger twitch to communicate. I made the point that this is the exact situation when having an advanced directive or living will in place is helpful.  It provides clear instructions to your family and medical team years before they need it to guide their treatment decisions in the future. I would recommend you all address this issue in advance. The NHS Choices has very good advice on end-of-life issues and advanced directives. 

End-of-life issues that are highlighted on our MS Tube map that possibly need consideration are:

  1. Palliative care
  2. Legal aid
  3. Social services
  4. Hospice
  5. Respite care
  6. Dignitas
  7. Assisted suicide
  8. Funeral planning
  9. Dignified dying
  10. Mortality (cause of death)
  11. Living will

Did you know that one of the MS Society's asked me permission to use my tube map, but wanted to remove the terminal line? They felt it would not be appropriate to inform or remind pwMS that MS has a terminal phase. On principle I said no; if they wanted to use the map they needed to take it as is, warts and all. Was I wrong? I feel the days of the patronising HCP, deciding what information to give pwMS, are over. To be honest, life has a terminal phase and the issues being discussed here are not unique to MS and apply to everyone so I am not sure we need to be overly sensitive about these issues.

The following is an example of an advanced directive to refuse treatment at the end-of-life. This can be adapted for MS. 

Strupp et al. Evaluation of a palliative and hospice care telephone hotline for severely affected Multiple Sclerosis patients and their caregivers. Eur J Neurol. 2017 Sep 19. doi: 10.1111/ene.13462.

BACKGROUND: Palliative and hospice care (PHC) still highly focus on cancer patients.

OBJECTIVES: To connect severely affected Multiple Sclerosis (MS) patients and caregivers to PHC, a nationwide hotline was implemented facilitating access to PHC.

METHODS: The hotline was designed in cooperation with the German Multiple Sclerosis Society. Self-disclosed information given by callers was documented using case report forms supplemented by personal notes. Data was analysed descriptively.

RESULTS: 222 calls were documented in 27 months. Patients' (mean age 51.12; range 27-84) mean illness duration was 18 years (range 1 month to 50 years). Inquiries included information on PHC (28.8%), and access to PHC (due to previous refusal of PHC, 5.4%), general care for MS (36.1%), adequate housing (9.0%), emotional support in crisis (4.5%). 31.1% of callers reported "typical" palliative symptoms (e.g., pain 88.4%), 50.5% symptoms evolving from MS, and 35.6% psychosocial problems. For 67 callers (30.2%), PHC services were recommended as indicated.

CONCLUSIONS: The hotline provides insight into needs and problems of patients severely affected by MS and their caregivers, some of which may be met by PHC. Future follow-up calls will demonstrate if the hotline helps improve access to PHC beyond providing information. Overall, our hotline seems to be easily accessible for severely affected MS patients whose mobility is limited.

Addendum: Results of blog surveys done in the past related to this topic.

How does Daclizumab work? Can animal studies tell us

Bhopale MK, Hilliard B, Constantinescu CS, Phillips SM, Rostami A. DAB389IL-2 recombinant fusion toxin effect on lymphocyte- and macrophage-producing cytokine subpopulation cells in experimentally induced demyelinating disease in mice. Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol. 2017 :1-12

CONTEXT: We have reported previously that DAB389IL-2 recombinant fusion toxin targets IL-2R bearing CD4+ cells, and suppresses demyelinating disease in acute (A) - and chronic (C) - experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) animal models of multiple sclerosis.
OBJECTIVES: The present study was undertaken to investigate the effect of DAB389IL-2 treatment on various cytokine-secreting cell populations in A-EAE and C-EAE mice.
MATERIALS AND METHODS:The effects of DAB389IL-2 at doses of 200-, 800-, or 1600 kU administered i.v. on days 11-13 and 15 on the clinical score and cytokine-secreting cell populations were examined using flow cytometry.
RESULTS:C-EAE mice treated with 1600kU DAB389IL-2, but not A-EAE mice treated with 800 kU had significantly reduced disease. The CD3+CD25+ sub-population in spleens and spinal cords of A-EAE mice treated with 800 kU DAB389IL-2 a was increased, whereas in C-EAE mice treated with 1600 kU this population was increased. DAB389IL-2 treatment reduced CD3+CD4+, CD3+CD8+, CD4+CD8+, CD3+IL-2+, CD3+IFN-γ+ and CD3+TNF-α+ T cell subpopulations in the spinal cord in A-EAE, and C-EAE mice on day 16. CD11b+ macrophages that were IL-2-, IFN-γ-, and TNF-α- positive were reduced in A-EAE mice. DAB389IL-2 treatment reduced CD19+ B-cells positive for IL-2 or CD11b+ in the spinal cord in acute and chronic disease. DAB389IL-2 treatment also reduced lymph node CD3+CD8+, CD4+CD8+, CD3+CD25+ populations on day 16, and lymph node CD3+IL-10+ and peripheral blood CD3+CD25+ populations on day 24.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS: Our study demonstrates that DAB389IL-2 fusion toxin suppresses EAE in a dose-dependent manner, and alters inflammatory cell sub-populations during disease development

One of the flavors of the decade in terms of disease mechanisms has been the identification of Fox3P, CD25+, CD4 T regulatory cells. You can't see a paper these days where this is not the mechanism of action of EAE inhibition.

This is all well and dandy, but in terms of MS there is one nasty fact. 

People ignore from their world view. 

This is daclizumab. 

This antibody blocks CD25 which is the high affinity interleukin2 (T cell growth factor) receptor. Block this and natural killer subsets increase and MS goes away, but a problem is so do the T reg cells as these are depleted.

I was always of a mind-set that that his is not surprising because the action of daclizumab is because it is simply killing or blocking activated T cells and have more recently switched to thinking it is because it kills activated memory B cells. The NK story is a smoke screen. ProfG disagrees he thingks that is creates and better anti-viral response due to more NK cells.

However T regs are dogma. They are there to stop autoimmunity developing, which I totally understand. However one question I have always posed is why would want to spend a lot of effort to generate an immune response, outside the control of T reg control to give you life long protection, only to have it reeled back in by T regs. 

Since T regs were discovered, most studies give the interleukin 2 blocker before disease induction and low and behold it blocks T reg function and autoimmunity gets worse.....Hurrah for dogma.

What happens when this is done after disease has become established?

I have often thought of doing this for a student project, we could by the antibody with their lab expenses and see what happens I predicted nothing or it makes EAE better because EAE is driven by T cells and the blocker blocks activated T cells. 

Now I have found a few examples where people block the CD25 molecule after disease has developed and disease gets hoorah for dogma again. 

However I have also seen studies where cladribine stops mouse EAE, however someone forgot to tell the authors that cladribine does not work properly on rodents (don't believe me as Merck they should know) and is not T cell immunosuppressive. This could be deduced by reading the early cladribine studies that showed that rodent metabolise cladribine in a different way to humans. We knew this years ago (experiments done in 2004). 

So on first read of the manuscript I thought has this had been done
and it din;t block the early acute phase but blocked the chronic phase, but on re-read whilst writing this....I must say uuurgh,

In this study they used a toxin linked to interleukin2 so when it binds to the the CD25 it kills the target. Do this a Eh.....the number of T reg cells increases but T cells decrease and EAE is reduced so hooray dogma persists.  

Should I do that study project?

Friday, 22 September 2017

#NeuroSpeak: do you know what an IRT is?

We are already beyond ECTRIMS and planning for the ECF 2017 meeting in Baveno. #ECF2017 #NeuroSpeak

I am trying to communicate the new treatment concept of using a new class of treatments called the immune reconstitution therapies, or IRTs. If you are an HCP and are attending the European Charcot Foundation meeting in Baveno, Italy (30th November - 2nd December 2017), you may want to consider extending your stay to attend the following satellite symposium. I will be speaking on the topic of IRTs. To attend you need to pre-register online via this URL

CoI: multiple

#ChariotMS & #ThinkHand: therapeutic lag explains why we don't have treatments for progressive MS

We need to do longer studies in progressive MS #ChariotMS #ThinkHand

Summary: This post explains therapeutic lag and why people with more advanced MS don't see an immediate response to DMTs.

I have been invited to give a grand round talk at Imperial College this morning. I have chosen the topic: "Is progressive MS (more advanced MS) modifiable?".  This is an extension of our #ThinkHand campaign to get the wider neurological community to accept that MS is potentially modifiable throughout its course. Despite us posting and reposting about reserve capacity, therapeutic lag, MS being a length-dependent axonopathy and the asynchronous progressive MS hypothesis we still get questions such as: "Why don't pwPPMS, or pwMS with an EDSS >6.0 respond, to HSCT and other DMTs?"

It is the same issue in relation to responders vs. non-responders to ocrelizumab in the PPMS trial. It is very difficult to know who is a responder and non-responder based on the current data from the ocrelizumab PPMS, or ORATORIO, trial. Why? Simply because clinical trials are designed, or powered, to get a significant read-out in a reasonable period of time. It doesn't mean that if someone with PPMS does not stabilise, on a high-efficacy therapy, in say a period of 2 years is a non-responder. Because of therapeutic lag, it may take much longer to see a response to treatment, particularly in pwMS who are older and have less reserve capacity in the particular pathway (usually the legs) being assessed.

I often refer to the study below which showed that interferon-beta treatment, a moderate efficacy DMT, would probably work in PPMS provided the follow-up is long enough; in this case 7 years. In this study PwPPMS who had only been treated with IFNbeta for 2-years clearly did better at 7-years than those people treated on placebo over the same period of time. There was a lag in the impact of interferon-beta on the outcome.

Why a lag? One interpretation is that the impact of anti-inflammatory medications in progressive MS may take several years to play out. In other words progression in someone with PPMS over the next 2 years was primed by inflammation from years ago. Suppressing inflammation today will have no impact over the next 2-years as the damage priming progression over the next 2 years has already occurred. All anti-inflammatory therapies will have a lag in terms of showing a treatment response in progressive MS.

Does this make sense?

To illustrate this concept I drew the picture below, which has now been published in our length-dependent axonopathy paper. Importantly in this study, the actively-treated subjects (INF-beta) only did better than placebo-treated subjects in terms of upper limb function (9HPT), cognition and brain volume loss. There was no difference in terms of the EDSS and T25FW, which assess lower limb. The reason why there was no difference in lower limb function is almost certainly due to loss of reserve, i.e. too many nerve fibres supplying the limbs had been damaged already for an anti-inflammatory to make a difference. The other issue is that in this study the treatment period was too short. Please note this study is only one of many studies showing the same effect, a greater impact of anti-inflammatory therapies on upper limb, compared to lower limb, function and is one of the reasons we are running our #ThinkHand campaign and trying to get support for our CHARIOT-MS study.

In the ocrelizumab PPMS, ORATORIO, trial the treatment effect was almost double in the arms compared to the legs. This is why I have little doubt that ocrelizumab is effective in PPMS. If the trial was extended for longer the treatment effect on lower limb function will have gotten greater simply because of lag; survival or Kaplan-Meier curves diverge further with time.

I am convinced we are correct about 'therapeutic lag' and the MS community is beginning to take this it into account when designing progressive MS trials. This means being clever about our studies and getting the regulators to accept the 9HPT as a primary outcome measure. The MS community has made it clear that they value arm and hand function more than leg function, we now need the wider community to help get this message across. There is also an economic argument for taking DMTs into wheelchair users to protect upper limb function; once people lose their arm function they lose their independence and the costs, both medical and social, for looking after these become very high. 

Just imagine what happens to your self-esteem and quality of life when you can't transfer your self from your wheelchair to the toilet and need a carer to help you go the toilet? When we asked people with MS what hand and arm function they valued most many pwMS stated being able to go the toilet without help.

As you can see we will continue to make the case for doing trials in more advanced MS. This is why we need your help getting the CHARIOT-MS trial funded.  The CHARIOT-MS study will compare subcutaneous cladribine to placebo in subjects with more advanced MS (EDSS 6.0 to 8.0), using the 9-hole peg test as the primary outcome measure.

If you are a wealthy philanthropist reading this post? DrK (@KlausSchmierer) is looking for a large donation of ~£2M to support his application to the NIHR for the CHARIOT-MS study. He needs to bring the costs of the study for NIHR down to under £2.5M to have any chance of getting this trial funded and to help people with more advanced MS.

Tur et al. Interferon Beta-1b for the Treatment of Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis: Five-Year Clinical Trial Follow-up. Arch Neurol. 2011 Nov;68(11):1421-7.

OBJECTIVES: To investigate, during the 5-year period without treatment after termination of a 2-year clinical trial of interferon beta-1b for the treatment of PPMS.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: After 5 years without treatment, the EDSS and MSFC measures were scored for 63 and 59 MSers, respectively. Neuropsychological and magnetic resonance imaging assessments were performed for 59 and 50 MSers, respectively.

EDSS = Expanded Disability Status Scale

MSFC = MS Functional Composite ( a composite 3 tests the PASAT, 9-hole peg test and the timed 25-ft walk)

9-Hole Peg Test = test of upper limb function

Word List Generation Test = cognitive task

RESULTS: After 5 years without treatment, the interferon beta-1b group had better 9-Hole Peg Test (p=0.02) and Word List Generation Test (p<0.001) scores, and MRI measures in the normal-appearing white matter were significantly better. During the entire study period (from trial baseline to assessment at 5 years without treatment), the placebo group showed a greater decrease in brain volume (p=0.004). The in-trial increase of lesions correlated with the worsening of the EDSS score during the 5-year period without treatment (p =0.004).

CONCLUSIONS: Modest but beneficial effects of interferon beta-1b on clinical variables and brain atrophy development were observed 5 years after trial termination. Moreover, in-trial lesion activity correlated with EDSS progression after trial termination. Therefore, we provide evidence to consider immunomodulation as a sensible approach to treat primary progressive multiple sclerosis.


Thursday, 21 September 2017

#ChariotMS & #ThinkHand: is it ever too late to treat MS?

It is never too early, nor too late, to treat MS. #Never2EarlyNor2Late #ChariotMS #ThinkHand

Summary: This post makes a case for a new treatment philosophy at Barts-MS based on the principle that “It’s never too early, nor too late, to treat MS”. The post also describes the influence of the London Underground, or tube, on our thinking about MS. This post is longer than usual and no summary can do it justice so please take the time to read it in full. Thank you.

What has the tube, or London Underground, have to do with MS? My rendition of London Underground map to explain the MS journey should come to mind. I was recently told that my published, earlier, version has achieved iconic status as it is frequently used by other people in their presentations. It is a pity because things have moved on since I created the published version. Firstly, it depicts MS as a one-way journey that starts in the at-risk period and terminates in death valley. Another negative is that it is an all or nothing picture; it is not layered, it is not subtle. You may have noticed that I often show the MS tube map with a cut onion; if you peel an onion too fast it is going to make you cry. My ultimate aim is to produce a fold-out MS tube map that will allow you to unfold the journey one segment at a time. In this way, you can look at one part of the MS journey at a time. Secondly, my latest version of the map has become very dense with many additional lines and one line that is still under construction. This under construction line, or the dotted grey line, is the one that leads to long-term remission, a cure and normal ageing. It is under construction because the data is yet to emerge showing we can cure MS. I added this line to give people with MS hope and to make the point that the journey is not necessarily a one-way journey. Other add-ons to the map that I am particularly proud of include the co-morbidity, lifestyle and wellness lines. These illustrate the importance of managing MS holistically. Despite its limitations and criticisms, I maintain that the MS tube map creates a framework for laying out what MS is for people with the disease. Healthcare professionals can also use the map as a reference point to help them pigeonhole their knowledge and for explaining MS to their patients.

What about the criticisms? The cynics, and trolls, never miss an opportunity to take a punt at me and say that I created the MS tube map on behalf of Pharma to promote the prescribing of DMTs. The truth is that Pharma has never had a say in its content. The only reasons DMTs are a large part of the map is because there has been an explosion in the number of DMTs available to treat MS and with this, the complexity of treating MS has increased.

Please note the MS tube map will never be complete. It needs to evolve and improve. So if you have any ideas about improving it please drop me an email (

The real reason for penning this post is that DrK and I had a discussion on the tube last night about MS (yes, DrK and I are typical Londoners - we commute to and from work on the underground). Our discussion revolved around the observation that we as a group at Barts-MS are pushing two messages that may seem incongruent. (1) To treat early to prevent damage from occurring in the first place, but also (2) to treat late as there is always some neurological function to preserve. This led us to come up with a new slogan:

“It’s never too early, nor too late, to treat MS!” 

or in eSpeak 


What do we mean by this? It is clear that people with active MS do better with early access to treatment compared to delayed access to treatment. Similarly, people with MS treated with highly-effective treatments early (rapid-escalation or flipping the pyramid) do better than those who are started on less effective treatments first and escalated if necessary to highly effective therapies later (slow stepwise approach). However, even the former approach may not be early enough. We know that a significant number of people presenting with clinically isolated syndromes (CIS) already have substantial damage. Therefore we really need to define early, as being even earlier, and try and identify people in the asymptomatic phase of the disease, or in the at-risk period of MS, and treat them to prevent them getting MS in the first place. I am also very keen that we expand the diagnostic criteria of MS to include RIS (radiologically isolated syndrome) as part of the treatable MS spectrum. Approximately, 25% of RIS patients already have significant cognitive impairment. Why would we not want to treat these patients and prevent further damage?

It is never too late. At the moment all the trials that have led to licensed DMTs have excluded patients who are wheelchair users. The consequences of this are that many international guidelines, including NHS England guidelines, require us to stop DMTs once a patient reaches EDSS 7.0. We know this is wrong. We have emerging evidence that treatments still work in more advanced MS and slow down the progression of the disease in neuronal systems that still have reserve capacity, for example, the arms, speech and swallowing. Our #ThinkHand campaign’s main aim is to raise awareness about this issue and to get the MS community to take the preservation of upper limb function seriously. What we need is class 1 evidence (randomised-controlled trials) of the effect of DMTs on upper limb function in people with more advanced MS. This is why we are trying to get funding in place for our CHARIOT-MS study. The CHARIOT-MS study will tell us if subcutaneous cladribine, given to patients with more advanced MS (EDSS 6.0 to 8.0), will delay the inevitable loss of function of the upper limbs. Please note that Pharma has no interest in funding this trial; the liquid formulation of cladribine is generic and hence there is no financial incentive in place for them to do this trial. You may ask what about Mavenclad, the licensed oral formulation of cladribine? Unfortunately, the patent life on the oral formulation is too short; by the time a study in more advanced MS is done Mavenclad is likely to be generic.

In parallel to the CHARIOT-MS trial, we will continue to lobby Pharma. In my opinion, the four best agents, apart from Mavenclad, to test in more advanced MS are natalizumab, alemtuzumab, ocrelizumab and ofatumumab. Please note these are all high efficacy therapies. Insights that have led us to design the CHARIOT-MS study come from the ASCEND (natalizumab in SPMS) and ORATORIO (ocrelizumab in PPMS) trials. These studies indicate that we probably need a high efficacy therapy to make a difference in advanced MS. We are aware that Genzyme is developing a follow-on anti-CD52 monoclonal to replace alemtuzumab and Novartis have ofatumumab in phase 3 trials in RRMS. Therefore, which of the big guns, Genzyme, Biogen, Roche or Novartis are prepared to be bold and take-up the challenge of testing their drugs in more advanced MS? If anyone from one of these companies is reading this post can you please forward our message to the decision-makers in your companies?

Life tends to reward the bold, the risk-takers, and people who care. Which one of you cares enough about MS to take-up the challenge? The rewards of doing a study of this nature go way beyond economics. Can you imagine what the MS community will say about you as a company if you challenge the current dogma that ‘advanced MS is not modifiable’? One of the reasons for inviting so many company people as co-authors on our length-dependent axonopathy paper was to try and catalyse a change of thinking within your companies. We sincerely hope this is happening.

A softer and possibly easier option is to dig deep into your pockets and to make a large donation to DrK’s (@KlausSchmierer) CHARIOT-MS project. DrK is looking for a large donation to support his application to the NIHR for the CHARIOT study. He needs to bring the NIHR costs down to under £2.5M to have any chance of getting this trial funded.

DrK with a smile

Giovannoni et al. Is multiple sclerosis a length-dependent central axonopathy? The case for therapeutic lag and the asynchronous progressive MS hypotheses. Mult Scler Relat Disord. 2017 Feb;12:70-78.

Trials of anti-inflammatory therapies in non-relapsing progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) have been stubbornly negative except recently for an anti-CD20 therapy in primary progressive MS and a S1P modulator siponimod in secondary progressive MS. We argue that this might be because trials have been too short and have focused on assessing neuronal pathways, with insufficient reserve capacity, as the core component of the primary outcome. Delayed neuroaxonal degeneration primed by prior inflammation is not expected to respond to disease-modifying therapies targeting MS-specific mechanisms. However, anti-inflammatory therapies may modify these damaged pathways, but with a therapeutic lag that may take years to manifest. Based on these observations we propose that clinically apparent neurodegenerative components of progressive MS may occur in a length-dependent manner and asynchronously. If this hypothesis is confirmed it may have major implications for the future design of progressive MS trials.

CoI: multiple