PMR Researcher Findings Lead To Phase II Clinical Trials

Drs. Joe E. Springer and James W. Geddes investigated the neuroprotective effects of the drug riluzole in spinal cord injury (SCI) models several years ago, and this drug in now the process of being translated into a phase II clinical trial. Drs. Springer and Geddes were the first to investigate the neuroprotective properties of riluzole, a glutamate release inhibitor, in a rat SCI model showing that it could prevent secondary injury mediated by the proteolytic enzyme calpain. Dr. Springer's lab then went on to do additional work including a demonstration that the combination of riluzole and high dose methylprednisolone, the latter having been the unofficial standard of care in acute SCI since 1990, could produce a better outcome than either treatment alone in regards to improving functional recovery.

Subsequent to this experimental work, Dr. Michael Fehlings, Professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Toronto and a leading clinical investigator in the SCI field, became interested in riluzole and after confirming the UK work in his own laboratory has organized a multicenter phase II clinical trial to assess the safety and efficacy of riluzole treatment in acute SCI patients.

A major advantage to riluzole is that it is already a marketed drug that is sometimes used to slow the progression of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) with a proven safety record. In fact, it was Dr. Springer's original interest in ALS, a neurodegenerative disease affecting motor neurons that first led him to hypothesize that riluzole might also be useful in acute SCI. Moreover, as noted above, it appears to complement the use of high dose methylprednisolone setting up the possibility of combination therapy with the two agents.