The International Progressive MS Alliance scientific meeting: Connecting to end Progressive MS

Last week, I set out for the historic city of Boston to attend the second scientific meeting of the International Progressive Multiple Sclerosis Alliance (PMSA). Established in 2012 by six founding members –the MS Society of Canada among them – the PMSA connects resources and experts from around the world to better understand and accelerate the development of treatments for progressive MS.


Attendees of the second PMSA Scientific Meeting, including researchers, representatives of member MS Societies and the MS International Federation, and people living with MS

Progressive MS is a subtype of the disease that is set apart from relapsing-remitting MS by a gradual accumulation of clinical disability and neurological damage. Unlike relapsing-remitting MS, for which there are 10 approved disease-modifying therapies available, there are currently no approved therapeutic options that slow the progression of disability in those living with progressive MS. The lack of clear understanding of the underlying disease mechanisms and pattern of the disease make it extraordinarily elusive to treat, and is a frustrating reality for people living with MS who constantly face the uncertainty about whether their symptoms and disability will worsen over time.

Fortunately, there is hope on the horizon. The scientific meeting gathered 80 or so of the top minds in progressive MS research from across the globe – including basic scientists, clinicians, and industry partners – under one roof to find solutions based on what we know and in spite of what we don’t know about progressive MS. The goal of the meeting was to clarify and challenge the existing evidence supporting different disease mechanisms that underlie progressive MS. We also heard from a handful of researchers that hail from other biomedical fields, including cancer and Fragile X syndrome, to hear about lessons and strategies learned from other diseases that can be applied to progressive MS research.

Over the course of almost two days, an enormous amount of exciting research was presented that gave me great confidence that we’re making significant strides to develop solutions to end progressive MS. We heard about a host of molecular mechanisms that represent potential targets for new therapeutic strategies that could halt the progression and reverse the disability of this form of the disease. Also showcased were promising bench-top models for progressive MS, including a way to recreate the disease in animals so that we can better the disease mechanisms and screen new drug candidates. Finally, we heard updates from the pharmaceutical industry about drugs and interventional strategies that are under development and in clinical trials. The overall message of the meeting was that although there is still much to be learned, we’re beginning to see some real progress in understanding progressive MS and accelerating the development of new treatments thanks to this critical collaboration across disciplines and international borders.

We’ll be featuring more research updates from some of the great work presented at this meeting as it becomes available. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you – please leave your comments below!


Categories Research

National vice-president, research, past MS researcher, and PhD in Cellular and Molecular Medicine from University of Ottawa. Leads the MS Society's research program to find the cure for MS and improve the quality of life for people affected by the disease.

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