A highly effective treatment for multiple sclerosis

CAMPATH (credit: Jonny Settle)

Research by Alastair Compston and Alasdair Coles led to the drug alemtuzumab being used as a treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS).

MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. An estimated 2,500,000 people in the world have the disease (MS Trust); it affects >100,000 people in the UK and is the commonest neurological cause of disability in adults.

As of November 2019, over 25,000 people with MS have been treated with alemtuzumab, leading to reduced accumulation of disability and lower risk of developing progressive MS. This in turn allows more people to stay in work, with a higher quality of life, requiring lower drug and healthcare costs.

The drug is licensed in over 70 countries worldwide. The greatest use is in Europe and Northern America (regions with the highest incidence of MS), and the UK is the highest prescribing country of alemtuzumab, pro rata. The drug has also had significant commercial impact, generating more than €1.859 billion in net sales.

Previously known as Campath-1H, the drug was made in the Cambridge University laboratories of Cesar Milstein, Herman Waldmann and Greg Winter. The drug targets the lymphocytes, a subgroup of the white cells of the immune system, and was the first monoclonal antibody to be used as a therapy in humans.