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By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON, Feb 26 (Reuters) - A drug being developed by Acorda Therapeutics Inc (ACOR.O) helps some people with multiple sclerosis walk better, an important step in improving their quality of life, U.S. researchers said on Thursday.
If approved by the U.S. government, it would be the first MS drug to reverse a symptom of the disease, said Dr. Andrew Goodman of the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, who led the study.
Thirty-five percent of MS patients who previously had difficulty walking increased their walking speed after taking Acorda Therapeutics' drug fampridine for 14 weeks, according to the study in the Lancet medical journal.
That compared to 8 percent of those taking a placebo. The patients who were helped by the drug walked about 25 percent more quickly over a distance of 25 feet (8 metres) than they did before taking fampridine.
The people taking the drug also had stronger legs and were better able to do daily activities such as walking outside the home, standing and going up and down stairs.
Hawthorne, New York-based Acorda Therapeutics funded the study. Goodman has served as a consultant to the company.
The study involved 301 adults in the United States and Canada with MS. Some took 10 milligrams of the drug twice daily, while others got a twice-daily placebo.
There is no cure for MS. Existing drugs aim to slow the progression of the disease and prevent relapses, but patients may not know whether they are working, Goodman said.
"With these pills, the patients know if it's working," Goodman said in a telephone interview.
Acorda submitted a new drug application for fampridine to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Jan. 30.
"This trial included both physician and patient assessment scales that demonstrated both improvement in walking speed and clinical meaningfulness of that improvement," Dr. Ron Cohen, president and CEO of Acorda Therapeutics, said in a statement.
"The results of this study indicate that fampridine-SR could potentially represent an important new treatment option in managing MS," Cohen added.
Acorda declined to comment on media reports that Biogen Idec Inc (BIIB.O) was in talks to buy the company to get access to fampridine.
In MS, the immune system attacks the function of nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord, interfering with the communication between the brain and the rest of the body. The drug may improve nerve signals by affecting cellular doorways called potassium ion channels, the researchers said.
An estimated 2.5 million people worldwide have MS, including about 400,000 in the United States, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. (Editing by Maggie Fox and Xavier Briand)