Doctors hope a new treatment to delay the onset of multiple sclerosis could be given the green light after trials in Newcastle.
Patients at the city’s Royal Victoria Infirmary were offered dimethyl fumarate tablets, under the brand name Tecfidera, in an attempt to slow the progress of the debilitating disease and prevent flare ups.
The drug, originally developed to treat itchy skin condition psoriasis, has been available to sufferers in the USA, Canada and Austrialia since last year.
But as of yet it has not been given the go ahead for use in Britain by drugs watchdog NICE.
Now, thanks to the studies in the North East and one at Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, the possibility of that has moved a step closer, with the European Commission approving it for people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, the most common form of the disease.
Dr Martin Duddy, a consultant neurologist at the RVI, said: “We were involved in the clinical trials programme for Tecfidera at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle and it’s great news that it could soon be available in the UK.
“Tecfidera is taken as a twice daily capsule and trials have shown that it has a positive effect on key clinical and MRI measures of disease activity. It has been available in the US since last year and we have seen a really rapid uptake by the MS community there.
“If NICE approve its use within the European licence, this will allow the drug to be used for adults with the common relapsing remitting form of MS starting on drugs for the first time, and also for those looking to switch off current injectable therapies.
“I think the approval of Tecfidera would give us a really new, useful option for treating MS and I think there’s a couple of groups of patients that come to mind when we think about who we’d put on the drug.
“I think particularly attractive are people starting on the drug for the first time and I think when they are offered an oral medication against the injectables this is going to be attractive for them.”
A spokesman for the company behind the new tablets, Biogen Idec, said it was “committed to making it available in the UK and Ireland as quickly as we possibly can”.
NICE first began to consider the application of dimethyl fumarate - which used to be used on furniture and shoes to prevent mould during storage or transport in a humid climate, until it was banned for causing allergic reactions - for MS last year.
However that process was put on hold because, under European medicines legislation, a product placed on the market is required to have a marketing authorisation granted following a demonstration of safety and quality.
A spokesman for NICE said they would look to soon start a consultation on the use of the drug.