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A Treatment for Multiple Sclerosis That Upsets Big Pharma

If angioplasty for MS catches on, who is going to buy all the toxic drugs now prescribed for the mysterious disease?

In a breakthrough in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, last summer Dr. Paolo Zamboni, a vascular surgeon from the University of Ferrara in Italy, made public the results of findings from his study of 65 MS patients.

Dr. Zamboni and colleagues investigated CCSVI -- Chronic Cerebrospinal Venous Insufficiency -- a condition characterized by blockages in the veins causing problems in the blood flow drainage from the brain and/or spinal cord of sufferers. This condition has been shown to contribute in a significant way to the many symptoms of multiple sclerosis. It can be relieved by angioplasty, which is a simple surgical treatment that removes the blockages.

Despite the results of Zamboni's and other significant studies, my research into the media's coverage of angioplasty as a treatment for multiple sclerosis reveals that the mainstream media, with some notable exceptions (examples of which are here, here and here) , is generally presenting arguments that are favourable to maintaining the pharmaceuticals' monopoly on treatment options (examples here, here and here). Overall, the media has failed to do its journalistic duty to research all sides of the issue. They have failed to take the numerous testimonials and positive research results seriously and are failing to take into account the costs and benefits of angioplasty versus those of MS drugs that in the end offer little to no long-term benefits.

Pharmaceuticals provide millions of dollars every year to MS Societies in the U.S. and Canada, and the MS Societies in turn advertise the drugs developed by the pharmaceuticals and encourage their members to have full confidence in these drugs, even when alternative treatments, such as diet and angioplasty, might be more effective in alleviating the symptoms of the disease. 

In fact, the MS Society of Canada claims to receive less than two per cent of its funding in pharmaceutical grants -- see Myth #2 in the link above. Additional direct assistance to the MS Societies of Canada and the US would be in the form of free education materials, speakers, and expertise, as well as paid advertising in MS Society newsletters; however, total assistance would certainly be a relatively small percentage of total budget, hundreds of thousands in Canada and millions in the U.S., but direct assistance is perhaps not the main source of influence on MS Society decision making. 

Eminent neurologists and MS research foundations also receive extensive funding from pharmaceuticals, as revealed in a full disclosure article critical of CCSVI treatment that appeared in the Annals of Neurology (Khan et al, January 2010, Annals of Neurology ).

In addition to funding their research, the pharmaceutical industry also influences through leaders -- see below -- through an educational organization known as the "Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers." Page two of the report explicitly states that the CMSC is a partner with the pharmaceutical industry, other non-profit advocacy and services organizations (which would include MS Societies), and MS professional organizations.

Seven of the 11 authors of the report (including the first four, senior authors) disclosed receiving significant financial support from pharmaceuticals that produce drugs for MS. In addition, the pharmaceuticals are key players in an organization known as the "Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers" whose main function is to influence MS thought leaders such as neurologists, researchers, and directors of MS Societies.

The medical establishment, in general, is hesitant to embrace a finding that would shift some of the burden of treatment for MS from neurologists to interventional radiologists, vascular surgeons, and experts in blood flow and imaging. One can only speculate about why this shift is so difficult for them.

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