A generic allergy drug could represent a possible over-the-counter treatment for vision damage in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). In a mid-stage trial, patients taking the antihistamine showed improved eye-to-brain signaling, compared to those on the placebo.
According to the American Academy of Neurology, this result may suggest that the drug could help repair optic nerve damage caused by MS. The study – conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco’s Multiple Sclerosis Center – tested the effects of clemastine fumarate on MS patients with optic neuropathy, over a three month period.
“This study is exciting because it is the first to demonstrate possible repair of that protective coating in people with chronic demyelination from MS,” said Dr. Ari Green, study author from the Multiple Sclerosis Center at UC San Francisco. “This was done using a drug that was identified at UCSF only two-and-a-half years ago as an agent with the potential to help with brain repair.”
The study involved 50 patients with MS, whose vision damage ranged from mild disability to chronic inflammation of the optic nerve. The trial was randomized such that some patients were given clemastine, while others were given a placebo. Following three months of the trial, the treatment groups were reversed and the study was conducted for a further two months.
Patients who were given the drug saw a 1.9 millisecond improvement in the time it took for a signal to be transmitted from the retina to the brain. This result represented a statistically significant improvement over the placebo group.
Though the drug was associated with increased fatigue in some patients, none of the participants who started the trial dropped out before the trial finished. Whether the drug is tested in a late-stage trial depends upon the results of another study, as well as the availability of funding for the project.
Other treatments for optic neuropathy are currently in development by companies like Biogen. In 2015, the company announced the experimental drug – called opicinumab – showed a non-statistically significant improvement in MS patients’ retina-to-visual cortex signaling. Biogen is expected to announce the results from a further mid-stage clinical trial of their drug later this year.