UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology


Cannabis-mimicking MS drug trial starts

11 December 2015

A trial has started of a treatment that mimics the properties of cannabis to help reduce spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis (MS). The trial is being led by Dr Rachel Farrell, a consultant at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (UCLH) and Honorary Senior Lecturer at the UCL Institute of Neurology.

One of the most common and disabling symptoms of MS, spasticity affects up to 80 per cent of patients, causing muscle stiffness, spasms and reduced mobility.

Many people with MS use cannabis medically to alleviate symptoms, but often suffer unwanted side effects like lethargy. Current treatments derived from cannabis are only moderately effective in reducing symptoms and also leave patients feeling fatigued and sedated.

The new drug, discovered at UCL, is called VSN16R and does not produce the sedative effect of current drugs. It was developed with the aim of finding a synthetic compound that interacts with the body’s own cannabinoid receptors without the disadvantages of other drugs.

Participants are only dosed for a four week period which is enough to show whether VSN16R impacts on spasticity. We hope to have the trial fully recruited within six to nine months and completed within a year. Dr Rachel Farrell, Consultant at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery and Honorary Senior Lecturer at UCL Institute of Neurology

Our bodies produce what are known as cannabinoid receptors (proteins) in the brain which controls part of the brain involved in pain sensation, mood and memory. These receptors activate those parts of the brain when triggered by naturally-occurring chemicals known as endocannabinoids. Chemicals found in cannabis mimic the effect of endocannabinoids. VSN16R works on a neural pathway which controls excessive nervous excitability and so reduces the symptoms that result from damage caused by MS.

This project has been a collaboration between UCL drug design scientists and the neuroscience team at Queen Mary. This link between basic and clinical science in London has enabled the phase II trials of this new medicine – first beginning at UCLH and with Barts Health NHS Trust to join soon.

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