Redefining Multiple Sclerosis

Dr. Stephen Hauser’s four decades of persistence and ‘biologically implausible’ theories led to development of revolutionary MS drug.

In 2002, the National Institutes of Health told UCSF neurologist Stephen Hauser, MD, that his unorthodox theories on the cause of multiple sclerosis (MS) lacked “biological plausibility.” 

Fast-forward to March 2017, when the US Food and Drug Administration approved a new drug against MS that grew out of those very theories. Thanks to 40 years of perseverance by Hauser, who is now director of the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, more than 350,000 patients in the US and 2.5 million worldwide have a treatment option that in many cases stops the progression of MS in its tracks. 

Hauser and his colleagues showed that the immune system’s B cells – not its T cells, as most scientists had believed – lead the attack on nerve cells that results in the disease’s devastating and life-altering complications, including muscle weakness, lack of coordination, bladder difficulties, visual impairment, and cognitive problems. 

That insight led to the development of the drug ocrelizumab, which goes by the brand name Ocrevus. It’s been shown to thwart the immune system’s assault on the body in both relapsing-remitting MS and primary progressive MS – the first time a single therapy has ever been effective against these two common forms of the disease. 

Stephen Hauser is the Robert A. Fishman Distinguished Professor of Neurology and a member of the Weill Neurohub leadership committee. 

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