100 Years of Mateship: ‘An amazing journey of perseverance’

MS Research Australia recently co-hosted a wonderful event to celebrate the collaborative work of MS Research Australia and the United States’ National MS Society (NMSS), as part of the Australian and US ‘100 Years of Mateship’ programme. Held at the Australian Embassy in Washington DC, the evening showcased both the Australian and the American MS research efforts, as well as the work of the International Progressive MS Alliance.

CEO of MS Research Australia, Dr Matthew Miles, and CEO and President of the US NMSS, Cyndi Zagieboylo, were key speakers at this event, which welcomed nearly 100 guests. As the Vice Chair and Chair of the Executive Committee of the International Progressive MS Alliance respectively – they used this opportunity to talk about the complementary strengths of Australian and US research over the last 15 years including much of the research efforts on understanding both genetic and environmental factors of MS.

Global research efforts have led to the breakthrough of a new therapy. Ocrelizumab has since been registered as the first ever treatment for primary progressive MS in Australia, the US and Europe. This is an important achievement, as progressive MS has not benefited from the recent MS research breakthroughs as much as relapsing MS has.

Dr Matthew Miles and Cyndi Zagieboylo emphasised the renewed focus to find solutions, and eventually a cure, for people living with primary and secondary progressive MS. The International Progressive MS Alliance has already committed over 52 million euros to the research in to progressive MS, in the hopes of finding breakthroughs and encouraging more international collaborative research efforts.

Another keynote speaker was Professor Stephen Hauser, who travelled from California for the event. Professor Hauser is a world leader in developing new treatments for MS and has won two of the biggest accolades in MS research – the Charcot Award and the Dystel Prize. He has been recognised for his scientific work that challenged the current thinking about MS, and his discoveries have opened new therapeutic avenues for highly effective treatments for MS. Without Professor Hauser’s understanding of the role of genetics and immune B cells in MS diagnosis, Ocrelizumab therapy may not exist today.

Professor Stephen Hauser spoke of the incredible 20 year journey of Ocrelizumab therapy. From the earliest concepts, to the registration and FDA approval for both forms of MS. It was a humble medical story of perseverance and hope. Many senior researchers initially did not agree with Professor Hauser’s theory of the role of genetics and immune B cells in MS, and several government funding agencies refused to support his research. Professor Hauser spoke greatly of the Australian researchers that had faith in his theory, and collaborated with him to bring Ocrelizumab therapy to fruition. These tremendous Australian researchers included Professor Graeme Stewart, Professor Michael Barnett, Professor John Prineas and Professor Bruce Taylor. Professor Hauser also acknowledged the imperative role that the Australian individuals living with MS played in the early days of research, by participating in clinical trials relating to the new therapy.

This marvellous event brought together many different groups and individuals in the MS community including expats and locals living with MS, researchers from all over the world, government officials and donors. The night was a celebration and showcase of the accomplishments that collaborative research can bring to the world of MS research. It provided an opportunity for the different MS communities to learn from each other and understand where best to spend our time on research advocacy. A huge thanks must go to the office of the Australian Ambassador, the Hon. Joe Hockey and the Minister, Anthony Turfett as well as the Embassy team for making this event a reality. The stunning event was made possible due to the generosity and support of the Telstra office in New York City, who covered a majority of the costs.

It has been 150 years since MS was discovered, but only recently has there been hope and progress for people living with progressive MS. Maybe, just maybe, the tide is finally turning.

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