Tanuja Chitnis: “It’s the right time” for precision medicine in MS



The theme for ACTRIMS Forum 2019 revolves around precision medicine for patients with multiple sclerosis. In an interview at the meeting held by the Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis, the conference’s cochair, Tanuja Chitnis, MD, explained why this is the right time to take a deep dive into what precision medicine means in MS, for patients and physicians alike.

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“We chose the topic of precision medicine for this forum because it’s a really timely issue,” said Dr. Chitnis, noting that there are now over 16 approved treatments for MS, and an increasing recognition that “not every patient has the same disease course.”

“It’s the right time to think about individualized treatment, and not a one-size-fits-all approach,” she said, noting that clinicians and patients stand to benefit from guidance about treatment choices.

“In addition, we are aided by the number of biomarkers that are becoming available,” including quantitative MRI and serum biomarkers. “I think we – as a field – need to understand how to use these in clinical settings in order to guide treatment decisions,” said Dr. Chitnis, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, Boston.

Advances in data science are allowing the connection of disparate kinds of data for discovery and hypothesis testing and validation, said Dr. Chitnis, who serves as medical director for the large longitudinal CLIMB study. The study follows about 2,000 patients who have yearly neurologic examinations and brain MRI; serum biomarkers and self-report data are also acquired annually.

“Network science can help in the precision medicine approach to multiple sclerosis, because we have a very clear understanding that MS is a complex disease. It is not one gene; it is not one modality,” she said.

Dr. Chitnis reported that she has received research funding from multiple pharmaceutical companies.

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