‘Game changer’ trial will test many treatments at the same time

A revolutionary “mega-trial” for progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) will launch in the UK later this year which experts hope will accelerate “desperately needed” new treatment options for the condition.

Octopus, so called because of its multiple arms, will transform the way treatments for progressive MS are tested – and could deliver new treatments up to three times faster, according to the MS Society.

It will test several drugs – rather than just one – against a placebo at the same time. The trial will also combine what would normally be two consecutive trial phases into one.

The flexible approach also means the trial team can continually update Octopus as their knowledge evolves. For example if scientists were to discover another effective treatment in the laboratory, that can be quickly slotted in – rather than waiting years to set up a whole new trial.

Professor Olga Ciccarelli, a leading magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) expert in the field of MS who has been instrumental in developing Octopus, called the trial a “game changer”.

She said: “As well as testing many treatments at the same time with only one placebo arm, we’ll use an interim analysis of MRI scans to allow us to progress to the next stage much quicker. If scans show a treatment is slowing the rate of brain shrinkage, we can assume it will eventually slow disability worsening – and then investigate it with hundreds more participants.

“Any treatments not showing potential in the MRI analysis will be dropped, so we’re not wasting time or resource on treatments unlikely to be successful. Ultimately it’s a much more efficient trial, and a major step forward in the search for progressive MS treatments.”

More than 130,000 people live with MS in the UK and there are tens of thousands with progressive forms who have nothing to stop their MS getting worse. The MS Society said the launch of Octopus is a crucial moment towards one day stopping MS.

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