Female hormone estriol showing promise as MS therapy
Philadelphia Inquirer (PA)
The two-year trial of 158 women, conducted at the
She has spent 18 years working toward getting estriol approved as a therapy for the crippling neurological disorder, building on circumstantial evidence that MS flare-ups subside in pregnancy, the only time estriol is naturally abundant.
Voskuhl presented the latest data at the
"The beauty of estriol -- and we've done a lot of work in animals showing this -- is that it's not only anti-inflammatory but neuroprotective," said Voskuhl, head of the MS program at the
"Neurodegeneration is an aspect of MS not addressed by current therapies," said
MS is a progressive disorder that damages the protective covering of nerves in the brain, spinal cord, and eyes. In the most common form of MS, attacks, or relapses, occur about once a year, producing patches of injured tissue than can be seen on MRI scans. A relapse is followed by a remission.
Decades of anecdotal reports from women such as
Freney had six children in quick succession before being diagnosed with MS in 2009. Her neurologists estimated she'd had the disease for nine years, yet she had no disability -- no muscle weakness or paralysis, no visual impairment, no cognitive decline. She still doesn't. Her worst symptom is fatigue.
"But I have six kids, so I'm always running around," said Freney, a technical writer for a health insurer.
Freney was part of the estriol trial at
"I can tell you I felt great while I was taking it," she said. "And my MRI scans have been stable; no growth, no shrinkage."
All women in the study took a standard MS drug called Copaxone, an injection that reduces the annual relapse rate by about 29 percent. Showing a decrease on top of that was a "difficult task," Voskuhl said, but estriol further cut the relapse rate by 47 percent.
Standard MS drugs, designed to modulate the immune system, can have severe side effects and cost up to
The evidence that estriol prevents relapses was important, but the apparent neuroprotection presents new opportunities, Voskuhl said.
That's why she has launched a study at four sites, including
Big drug companies are rarely interested in developing generic drugs for new uses because, under patent laws, the marketing rights are less exclusive than with a novel drug. But the apparent neuroprotective effects of estriol "are absolutely wonderful, especially with a drug that has no significant side effects," said
"There's a fair number of people who are courting us," he said.
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