Of Mice and Men & Athletes Foot

Did you hear the latest news?  The headlines proclaim

The cure for multiple sclerosis has been found.


Or at least one that again works in mice.  This time the agent that worked on reversing MS and repairing damaged myelin is an antifungal cream used for athletes foot, jock itch and psoriasis.  In a mouse model, they administered variations of these over the counter drugs and a mouse that was unable to walk due to myelin damage, regained use of its back legs.

If only we had four legs, perhaps it would work in us, too.

I was with a group of really informed medical scientists when I heard this news and one challenged me to guess how many times he has heard a cure for cancer has been found because it worked in mice but then it couldn't be replicated in humans.  I couldn't even come up with an appropriate number.

Before you rush out and buy out the stock of creams and ointments at your local pharmacy, please remember this is very early on in the research model.  You can't ingest the stuff - it could make you very ill. If rubbing it on feet worked, then I venture to guess a bunch of us would already be cured and not even know why.

What they need to do now in the lab is create a formulation of these drugs, get approval to test it in humans, conduct clinical trials first with a small cohort of people with MS and then with a large scale study.

In other words, even if this is a cure, it will be a long time before it might be offered to any of us as a treatment.

So why do we so often hear about these four legged advances in medicine and with such excited headlines? Partially it is because good news of treatment potentials can be hard to contain and we all like to hear encouraging words.

Another reason, though, has to do with business.  The biotechnology field is extremely complex, and expensive.  It is even more costly to do clinical trials for drugs. Estimates I read for those costs for a phase 3 trial, when a drug is in the final stages of testing before seeking approval, exceed 100 million dollars per year.  Yes, that is $100,000,000 per year.  It takes on average 15 years to bring a new drug through testing to the market and that costs over $1 BILLION. The smaller companies and academic researchers who are often making these mice connections with their research don't have deep enough resources to fund trials. They need to find a way to generate interest in their potential treatments for either a partner to finance further trials or outright buy the research or even the company.

Those headlines declaring a Multiple Sclerosis cure has been demonstrated in mice has my attention and yours, and we will be excitedly promoting the idea to others. The headlines are also a way to gather the attention of companies who may want to help fund further research of a particular idea. We know whatever company ultimately achieves success with an MS cure will make an incredible amount of money, and it will have begun with experiments from mice to men.

Wishing you well,


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