A standardised frankincense extract reduces disease activity in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (the SABA phase IIa trial)

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Abstract

Objective

To investigate whether oral administration of a standardised frankincense extract (SFE) is safe and reduces disease activity in patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS).

Methods

We performed an investigator-initiated, bicentric phase IIa, open-label, baseline-to-treatment pilot study with an oral SFE in patients with RRMS (NCT01450124). After a 4-month baseline observation phase, patients were treated for 8 months with an option to extend treatment for up to 36 months. The primary outcome measures were the number and volume of contrast-enhancing lesions (CEL) measured in MRI during the 4-month treatment period compared with the 4-month baseline period. Eighty patients were screened at two centres, 38 patients were included in the trial, 28 completed the 8-month treatment period and 18 of these participated in the extension period.

Results

The SFE significantly reduced the median number of monthly CELs from 1.00 (IQR 0.75–3.38) to 0.50 (IQR 0.00–1.13; difference −0.625, 95% CI −1.25 to −0.50; P<0.0001) at months 5–8. We observed significantly less brain atrophy as assessed by parenchymal brain volume change (P=0.0081). Adverse events were generally mild (57.7%) or moderate (38.6%) and comprised mainly gastrointestinal symptoms and minor infections. Mechanistic studies showed a significant increase in regulatory CD4+ T cell markers and a significant decrease in interleukin-17A-producing CD8+ T cells indicating a distinct mechanism of action of the study drug.

Interpretation

The oral SFE was safe, tolerated well and exhibited beneficial effects on RRMS disease activity warranting further investigation in a controlled phase IIb or III trial.

Clinical trial registration

NCT01450124; Results.

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