Goat Blood Drug Raises Hope, Concerns for Multiple Sclerosis Patients
Among the more innovative treatments for multiple sclerosis is a controversial drug derived from goat blood, which was recently reported to benefit patients with secondary progressive MS. While the discovery may raise hope among MS patients, the drug also is the topic of concern.
How can goat blood help MS?
At the joint meeting of the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers and the Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis, investigators reported that a goat blood product called AIMSPRO helped a significant number of patients with secondary progressive MS. This form of multiple sclerosis develops in about 80 percent of people who start out with the most common form of MS—relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.
Typically, people develop secondary progressive MS after they have had relapsing-remitting MS for ten years or longer. While relapsing-remitting MS has patterns of attacks followed by recovery, the secondary form does not and recovery is not as complete, as individuals experience an increase in weakness, stiff leg muscles, bowel and bladder problems, and an increase in fatigue, depression, and cognitive function.
In the open-label study, 140 patients with secondary progressive MS were treated for up to 3 years with AIMSPRO, which is made in Britain from serum (a blood product) extracted from goats that have been certified to be prion-free. Prions are misfolded proteins that can cause rare neurodegenerative diseases, such as mad cow disease.
The goat blood drug was administered to the patients via subcutaneous injection ranging from twice a week to once every two weeks. Patients who were evaluated had been taking the drug from as little as two weeks to 3 years, and the number of given doses ranged from 3 to 150. None of the patients were taking disease-modifying drugs while using AIMSPRO.
Here’s a brief look at the results:
- 122 patients improved in at least one of eight different areas of symptoms, including 40 who improved in two areas
- 27 patients improved in three areas, and 33 improved in four or more
- 16 patients showed no improvement
- 2 patients got worse
Concerns and controversy
Currently AIMSPRO, which is produced by Daval International Ltd. Of Eastbourne, England, is available in Great Britain for compassionate use only. The drug has not been approved anywhere for marketing.
According to MedPageToday newspaper article noted that MS patients were “spending their life savings [on an] unproven goats’ blood treatment.” Another concern is that the study’s lead author, Christopher E.G. Moore, MSc, MBBS, of Queen Alexandra Hospital, owns stock in Daval.
Daval also conducted an unpublished study in which it tested AIMSPRO in MS patients to determine its impact on bladder function. Bladder function reportedly did not improve, although there was some suggestion of improvement in other MS symptoms.
Another point raised about the study is that no objective measures of disease activity, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) lesion counts, had been conducted. Although MRI scans are standard for MS patients in the United States, they are not in Great Britain.
In multiple sclerosis, the fatty sheaths that protect the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are damaged, which leads to scarring or lesions. Doctors can help diagnose as well as predict the severity and progression of MS by imaging and monitoring the lesions by taking MRIs of the brain.
Other MS treatments
Many patients with multiple sclerosis seek alternative forms of treatment. One recent study found that some patients with relapsing-remitting MS benefited from taking a natural supplement that contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids along with vitamins.
Other research has suggested a marijuana component (THC) may benefit some MS patients by reducing progression of the disease, while other investigations revealed the drug can improve range of motion and pain.
Conventional treatment of secondary progressive MS includes disease modifying drugs (e.g., mitoxantrone), which can reduce the frequency and severity of relapses. The immune-suppressing drug methotrexate also may improve symptoms.
It’s too soon to tell whether AIMSPRO will be added to the limited arsenal of drugs used to treat multiple sclerosis. For now, the goat blood drug is raising concerns along with some hope for multiple sclerosis patients.
Moore C et al. Clinical benefits with Aimspro in progressive multiple sclerosis: open label study. CMS-ACTRIMS 2013; abstract SC23