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Biomarkers at the forefront of innovation

Novartis Canada and Innodem Neurosciences are pushing the boundaries of innovation to reimagine care in multiple sclerosis (MS).

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic neurological disease of the central nervous system, affecting the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Estimates are that over 90,000 people in Canada-or 1 in 400-are living with the disease, and the degree of severity can vary from person to person.

Identifying subtle changes in MS disease activity

Given the complexity and unpredictable nature of MS, the condition requires tailored, personalized, and adaptive treatment strategies based on individual needs and the rate of disease evolution. This presents unique challenges to neurologists and researchers who are joined together with leaders across the industry to identify new solutions that could improve the way the disease is currently managed and monitored.

Despite decades of progress on the therapeutic front, clinicians still mainly rely on neurological exams and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to detect the progression of the disease. “This is both cost prohibitive and at times difficult to access,” says Dr. Paul Giacomini, MS Clinic Director at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Chief Medical Officer at Innodem Neurosciences.

Even for people living in larder city centers, who may have less difficulty accessing an MRI, it’s not realistic for them to visit a clinic more than a handful of times each year, at most. “An MRI is limited to evaluating structural changes in the brain, such as new MS lesions, not patient function,” says Dr. Giacomini. As a result, neurologists may not be able to identify early, subtle signs of disease progression until after a relapse or irreversible progression has occurred.

Biomarker research is advancing a more proactive care approach

Recognizing this challenge, Novartis Canada is focused on biomarkers as a promising path to more proactive care in MS. “We have a real opportunity to modernize the standard of care and help detect disease progression earlier by advancing research in this space,” says Jason Brown, Vice President, Neuroscience and Gene Therapies at Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada Inc.

Biomarkers are an objective measure that helps assess the severity of the disease as it appears and can reveal how a person is responding to their treatment. As such, the focus on biomarkers is to help support with timelier optimization of treatment and care strategies.

“In MS, it can be a challenge to determine how best to deploy therapies in a way that optimizes long-term outcomes, and biomarkers give us an early indication of what is happening below the surface so that care providers can react quickly and effectively,” says Dr. Giacomini.

Embracing innovation and technology

Since 2021, Novartis Canada and Innodem Neurosciences have been focused on advancing the application of biomarkers into clinical practice. “Our goal is to help solve some of the most significant healthcare challenges and remain focused on accelerating new innovations in MS,” says Brown. Health Canada recently granted approval of the Eye-Tracking Neurological Assessment for Multiple Sclerosis (ETNATM-MS), a new, non-invasive tool developed by Innodem Neurosciences that turns an iPad Pro into a medical device capable of capturing and analyzing several hundreds of eye movement parameters for use in tracking disease progression in people living with MS.

“In multiple sclerosis, time matters,” says Dr. Pamela Valentine, President and CEO, MS Canada. “Early identification of disease progression may help to optimize the management of MS throughout the disease course, so we are pleased to see advances in innovative technologies aimed at improving treatment and care for people living with MS.”

“Having the means to act on disease progression before irreversible damage occurs, no matter where each individual is along their personal journey with MS, is what we are striving for,” says Brown. “I am also eager to explore fluid biomarkers, such as serum neurofilament light chain, which may prove valuable for care teams in clinical decision-making at earlier stages.”

Shared hope for a modernized approach

The approval of ETNATM-MS is an important milestone, and an example of what is possible when key stakeholders come together with a common goal, to improve outcomes for Canadians living with MS.

MLR ID: 438638

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