Yesterday Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall left the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) and the MS Society of Canada in the dust when he announced his government has allocated $2.2 million for 86 multiple sclerosis patients in Saskatchewan to participate in Phase II clinical trials into chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency, or CCSVI, currently underway in Albany, NY. (Phase II trials consist of randomized treatment in a clinical setting, as opposed to Phase I trials, which research the safety and efficacy of a drug or procedure.) Applications, which will be accepted until Feb. 24 from patients who fit trial criteria, will be chosen randomly. Results from the lottery, one destined to be oversubscribed, could be announced as early as March. “It’s a good day in the province of Saskatchewan,” the premier said at a press conference, adding that very few residents of his province, which has one of the country’s highest incidence of MS per capita, have not been touched by the disease. He also noted the FDA has approved the Albany trial, the largest double-blinded study yet into the venous angioplasty treatment for MS pioneered by Italian vascular specialist Paolo Zamboni.
Anyone following the tortuous politics in the battle for CCSVI clinical trials in Canada over the past two years couldn’t help but read the comment as a not-so oblique reference to the fact the CIHR, which did an about-face on a previous decision not to fund clinical trials last year, has yet to announce its research team into Phase I trials (Phase II trials aren’t on the radar). Or that the MS Society, which allocated $700,000 into ongoing studies reviewing only the efficacy of CCSVI scanning, not treatment, has not exactly been a trailblazer on the issue, one that has dominated MS-patient activism in the past two years.
In sending Canadian MS patients to the U.S., after failing to get a home-grown trial off the ground, the premier is also debunking any myth that Canada is “a leader” in CCSVI research. Though the Albany trial is expected to take two years, Wall is already strategizing. While saying he didn’t want to get ahead of himself, the premier did allow that “if we find any symptom relief for MS, treatments that work for the many who suffer—the 3,500 plus in this province—I think it will be incumbent on the province of Saskatchewan to provide those proven and efficacious treatment to those patients.” Those are compassionate words. They’re also fighting words, suggesting that Saskatchewan, the home of once-universal Canadian health care, could also be ground zero for furthering CCSVI science—and possibly providing new treatment for a mysterious, incurable condition that afflicts so many Canadians.