Caroline Helwick

February 12, 2016

NEW ORLEANS, LA — ACTRIMS Forum 2016, to be held February 18 through 20, is the first "stand-alone" forum for the Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS).

The theme for this first forum, taking place here in New Orleans, Louisiana, is "Progressive MS: From Bench to Bedside and Back."

ACTRIMS Forum 2016 represents MS specialists' efforts to create a meeting that is "academically rigorous, but translationally relevant," program cochair Benjamin M. Segal, MD, told Medscape Medical News.

Past ACTRIMS meetings have been held in conjunction with other entities, primarily the Consortium of MS Centers, he explained.

"We feel this meeting will be unique," said Dr Segal, the Holtom-Garrett Professor of Neurology and director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at the University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor. "We have put together a series of talks that are conceptually, thematically linked, where we will examine, in a concentrated way, a particular subject in MS research; this year, progressive MS. Attendees will be on the cutting edge of research in this area."

Although tremendous advances have been made in understanding and treating relapse-remitting MS, "we are not at that point with progressive MS," he said. The challenges that still exist in this subtype warrant a meeting that is completely focused on better understanding it, he said.

Jerry S. Wolinsky, MD, from the University of Texas in Houston, will deliver the first Kenneth P. Johnson Memorial Lecture and will focus his remarks on the need to distinguish among the forms of MS to facilitate development of the most effective treatments.

Dr Johnson was a leading neurologist, playing a key role in national clinical trials that led to the approval of the first disease-modifying therapies in MS. He was awarded the Dystel Prize by the National MS Society and the American Academy of Neurology for his work. He died in 2011.

"I have been quite fortunate over the years to have had a number of quite gifted mentors, none the least of which was Ken. Our paths have been tightly intertwined from my early days as a wet behind the ears faculty member in San Francisco until nearly four decades later with his passing. I have benefitted greatly from both his spoken wisdom, often unseen guidance and friendship. It is truly a privilege to present the first of these named ACTRIMS Forum lectures in his honor," Dr Wolinsky said in an ACTRIMS press release.

In his address, Dr Wolinsky will focus on registration-quality trials that illuminate possible answers and continued challenges for understanding and treating the progressive phase. He will place this information in context with experimental and translational data from smaller cohorts.

Topics Range From Bench to Bedside

"Another way that the ACTRIMS Forum will distinguish itself from other meetings will be our emphasis on participation by young investigators," Dr Segal said.

The aim, he said, is to bring fellows and assistant professors who are just launching their careers "into the fold" to highlight their work and encourage their research efforts.

This goal is furthered by the awarding of 60 educational grants to investigators whose abstracts hold the most merit, he noted.

Topics of interest at the meeting will be new insights into the pathogenesis of progressive MS, advances in the development of serological and imaging markers of disease progression, and outcomes from clinical trials of neuroprotective, neuroregenerative, and immunomodulatory agents in progressive MS.

Although the forum was developed before the positive results announced for ocrelizumab in the Study of Ocrelizumab in Patients with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (ORATORIO) trial, the program committee anticipated that by the time of the meeting, data on ocrelizumab and other novel treatments would be available. The meeting provides a forum for discussing the results in the context of current management and future directions in progressive MS, Dr Segal said.

To this end, Fred Lublin, MD, from Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York City, will present breaking news from recently completed trials on ocrelizumab, fingolimod, and other novel agents.

Other sessions will take a deep dive into truly innovative approaches to treatment, Dr Segal noted. Peter Calabresi, MD, from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, will discuss intrathecal rituximab, and Andrew Goodman, MD, from the University of Rochester, New York, will report on a study from the New York MS Consortium on stem cell transplantation.

Dr Segal also anticipates high interest in sessions exploring pathogenic mechanisms.

"There is debate about how much of the damage in progressive MS is driven by inflammation and the immune system, vs neurodegeneration. We will hear very recent developments regarding the neurodegenerative aspects of MS and the immune abnormalities in progressive MS," he said.

A separate session will explore findings from autopsy tissue regarding inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. Yet another will examine the best way to measure damage and disability, which will inform future clinical trials. And a late-breaking abstract session on "cutting edge developments" will be moderated by Dr Segal.

"We are excited that almost 600 people have registered for this first meeting," Dr Segal said. "This has exceeded our expectations."

Medscape Medical News will be on-site, providing in-depth news coverage and feature interviews, beginning Thursday, February 18. Follow us on Twitter (@MedscapeNeuro) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/#!/medscapeneurology). Follow ACTRIMS on Twitter @ACTRIMS, #ACTRIMS2016.

The meeting is being held at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans.

Dr Segal have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

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