A groundbreaking clinical drug trial for Motor Neurone Disease (MND) has been launched which will allow patients to undergo more than one treatment at a time.
MND-SMART is a UK-wide initiative which aims to find treatments that can slow, stop or reverse progression of the terminal disease.
Hundreds of people living with the illness, which progressively stops signals from the brain reaching the muscles, are now being invited to take part in one of the UK’s most “comprehensive” clinical trials in a generation.
The project will unusually allow more than one treatment to be tested at a time, giving patients a higher chance of receiving an active treatment, rather than the placebo.
Suvankar Pal, neurologist and MND-SMART co-investigator, said: “We’re very excited to be launching this trial. It gives real hope to people with MND across the UK.
“We’re hugely grateful to the people with MND who have helped us design the trial and we think their involvement will mean that far more people will be able to take part.
“I would also like to thank our key strategic partners, and specifically MND Scotland, alongside all the donors and fundraisers who have made this possible.”
The project, led by researchers at the Euan MacDonald Centre for MND Research at the University of Edinburgh, has been developed to find effective medicines more quickly.
It is designed so researchers can modify their approach according to emerging results.
New drugs can be added once the trial has started, while ineffective medicines can be dropped.
MND Scotland is one of the funders and contributed £1.5 million to the trial.
Lawrence Cowan, chairman of the charity, said: “Today is a historic moment in our fightback against MND and because of the incredible generosity of our supporters, MND Scotland has invested £1.5 million into MND-SMART.
“MND killed my best friend Gordon Aikman so suddenly, I never got a chance to say a proper goodbye.
“But I did make a promise to him that I would fight for everyone to have access to drug trials. I wish he was here to see this day.
“This is one of the biggest MND trials the UK has ever seen – and it’s open to almost everyone with the disease.”
Doddie Weir, founder of the MND research charity My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, is one of the people taking part in the trial.
The former Scotland rugby international revealed his diagnosis in June 2017.
The 49-year-old told BBC Scotland: “Of course I’m going to be part of the trial and I want to reach out to everyone else who has MND to register for the trial because at the moment there is nothing there on the plate for anyone who has got MND so it’s an exciting time ahead.
“It’s a great thing to be happening in Scotland and every patient of MND now has a positive step.
“I think 2020 will be an exciting time in the fight against MND.”
About 5,000 people are living with MND in the UK.