It may not be much longer before an oral medication for multiple sclerosis (MS) hits the market. Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, have reported1 successfully treating animals with an oral preparation of glatiramer acetate, also known as Copolymer 1 (Cop1). Moreover, a Phase I trial in humans conducted last summer in France showed that it is safe and well tolerated, according to multiple sources familiar with the unpublished results.

Multiple sclerosis--which produces symptoms ranging from visual problems or speech difficulties to loss of coordination, numbness, and paralysis--is an autoimmune disease wherein the protective layer surrounding the nerves in the brain and spinal cord is damaged. The disease presently affects an estimated 350,000 to 500,000 in the United States alone.

An injectable form of glatiramer acetate, marketed under the trade name Copaxone, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in December 1996 as a...

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