A trial to determine whether cannabis-based medicines can reduce disability in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) has been funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC).
The MRC has awarded £2 million to fund the CUPID study (Cannabinoid Use in Progressive Inflammatory brain Disease) which will be led by Professor John Zajicek of the Peninsula Medical School and Derriford Hospital, in collaboration with Professor Alan Thompson at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (part of University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust) and Institute of Neurology, University College London.
The three-year CUPID study, which is due to begin later this year, will recruit 500 patients with progressive MS from neurology centres across the UK. The trial will evaluate whether the principal active compound found in cannabis, delta9-THC, might slow the development of disability.
The research will follow on from a previous trial carried out by the same team, called Cannabinoids in MS (CAMS), which focused on testing the symptomatic benefit from cannabinoids over a 15-week and 12-month period. Whilst the CAMS study was taking place, experimental evidence came to light to suggest that delta9-THC, a drug that was being used in the CAMS study, may have the potential to protect nerve cells.
In light of this evidence, the research team paid particular attention to the influence of delta9-THC while looking at the CAMS results. Preliminary evidence was found to suggest that this compound had some effect on muscle stiffness scores and measures of disability in patients on the CAMS trial who took their medication for up to 12 months, but not those who stopped medication at 15 weeks. As CAMS was a very short trial, it is hoped that, by studying patients on the CUPID trial for a longer three-year period, delta9-THC's value in treating MS may become clearer.
Professor John Zajicek of the Peninsula Medical School said: "Currently very few medicines are effective in treating MS and none have been shown to have any effect in the later stages of the disease. If the CUPID study demonstrates that cannabinoids do have a longer term effect on the progression of disability, there are potentially far-reaching implications, not only for the health of people with MS, but also for those with other neurodegenerative conditions."
MS is a chronic disease of the nervous system and is the result of damage to myelin - a protective sheath surrounding nerve fibres of the central nervous system. When myelin is damaged, this interferes with messages between the brain and other parts of the body. More progressive forms of MS are thought to result from damage to nerve fibres. MS can affect any part of the central nervous system, often causing difficulties with walking, vision, sensation and balance.