Claire: Are the large companies, they’ve got vested interests obviously in getting their products out there, do you think that’s hindering any of the sort of alternative therapies or treatments or the use of the chemo and stem cell transplants?
Dr Anna Williams, Neurologist: Probably not, actually. The drug companies do have a vested interest in producing a drug, because if we’re talking about the myelin repair end of the disease, which is where a lot of the money is going at the moment, if you can repair myelin or protect nerves from dying – either of those – then it won’t only help people with MS, but it may well help people with spinal cord injury or Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease or any of the diseases where your nerves die. Therefore they want to put, they’re happy to put lots of money into it because the potential for gaining lots of money, if they get a drug that works, is huge, absolutely enormous. So it’s a big risk, but it’s a big gain. And so they are putting money in for that reason. Does it stop using drugs that we’ve already got? Well, the drug companies won’t test drugs that they’ve already got so much, because then they won’t make money from them. But to be fair, then that’s what the academic groups can do. So that like for the SMART trial is not pharmaceutically run, that’s run by grants from Medical Research Council. So this is completely separate from pharma, except they’re providing the drugs, clearly, pharma make these drugs. But this is an idea, what they call repurposing, so they’ve got drugs already that we have available, then see if they work for a different disease. And so that’s another way of doing it and it’s cheaper, it will be quicker because they won’t have to do the safety testing, because that’s already been done. So I think working hand in hand is fine. We need the drug companies because they’ve got masses of money and ability to do huge trials, but we also need academic trials where we’re completely free of pharma and do that, but we also need perhaps lifestyle trials and studies, where people, I don’t know, take vitamin D or do more exercise or…
Claire: Or diet, as you said before.
Dr Anna Williams: Or diet, exactly. Does that change? And they sort of come into more studies, because it’s quite difficult to intervene in diet. But you can do it with vitamin D. But they can do studies and they are much more likely to be run by academic groups. But you have to have some degree of sympathy for the drug companies, they are a business and therefore they do need to make money. Yes, sometimes they then charge quite a lot for their drugs, which is more troublesome, but on the other hand they have poured in a lot of research money already. And it’s a market and so they will charge for their drug what they think they can get. And that’s life, I’m afraid. But I do think that both sides are trying to work together currently to move drug therapy forward and it’s good for academia to get results, it’s good for pharma to get results, and that’s not competing, that’s working together. So I think it’s not really a problem, in my view.
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Dr Anna Williams is Professor of Regenerative Neurology at the Centre for Regenerative Medicine. She has published multiple works focused on MS and its treatment. Her recently research has focused on T Cells effects in myelin and brain lesions. She gained her PhD at the university of Edinburgh.