Progress for progressive sufferers

Two commonly used antipsychotic medications designed to treat a variety of mental health disorders may offer new hope to multiple sclerosis (MS) sufferers.

Professor Anne La Flamme with other members of the Multiple Sclerosis clinical trial.

They were designed to treat a variety of mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and autism—but two commonly used antipsychotic medications may offer new hope to multiple sclerosis (MS) sufferers.

A clinical trial is underway to test clozapine and risperidone in secondary progressive MS—which affects more than 35 percent of all MS sufferers and causes significant life-long disability. There is currently no effective treatment for this form of the disease.

Victoria immunologist Professor Anne La Flamme, an investigator on the trial, says repurposing medications is common for treating MS.

“The majority of agents used to treat the most common form of MS—relapsing remitting—were originally used for something else, like viral infections and leukaemia.

“Clozapine and risperidone have always been targeted to mental illness, but our studies show they are able to tone down the immune system in the brain, which is what causes MS, and this anti-inflammatory action is promising.”

Anne expects the trial to take two and a half years. She is working with neurologist Dr David Abernethy from Capital & Coast District Health Board, and Associate Professor Bronwen Connor from the University of Auckland.

The trial will be randomised, blinded and placebo controlled, to monitor closely any potential adverse effects from the drugs as well as measure any changes to MS disease.

“All drugs have side effects, and as these drugs are commonly used, we know what these may be and how to monitor them,” says Anne. “We want to make sure that patients with secondary progressive MS respond well to the drugs and are satisfied with the level of monitoring required.”

The study—based at Wellington Regional Hospital—has been funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and supported by the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand and the Great New Zealand Trek Charitable Trust.

For more information about enrolling in the trial, contact Liz Goodie, trial nurse, at