Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Last week, the National MS Society hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill to help educate legislators about the personal and economic benefits of MS research. At the briefing, Congressional staff and advocates from partner organizations learned about the impact MS research funding has on local communities. The panel featured:

  • Tim Coetzee, PhD, the Society’s Chief Research Officer;
  • Michael Richman, President and CEO of Amplimmune, Inc.; and
  • EJ Levy, an MS Activist from New York and a person living with MS.

The panel featured (left to right): Dr. Tim Coetzee, MS Activist EJ Levy, and Mr. Michael Richman

Mary Woolley, President of Research!America, provided opening remarks to set the stage for the upcoming panelists. The briefing took place during Research!America’s Save Research Campaign. Many of you joined the campaign by calling your legislators and urging them to protect research funding. Together, you made over 200 contacts with federal legislators! Thank you for your engagement! 

Mary Woolley addresses the audience
After the scene was set, Tim Coetzee provided an overview of the significant progress MS research has made in better understanding and treating the disease. Tim also pointed out the importance of research funding to incentivize young researchers to pursue careers in the medical research field and specifically, in MS. When less funding is available, less researchers may enter the field and opportunities may be lost to find new treatments and a cure for MS.

Michael Richman provided the perspective from a biotechnology company and pointed out that today’s research world is evolving at an exciting pace. His company, Amplimmune, Inc. is a company developing immune-based biologics. Today, Amplimmune has a number of MS drugs in the pipeline, as well as drugs for other diseases. A lot of these discoveries were funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In the past, Michael said, the NIH engaged in basic research and biotech companies did the translational research. Today, there are less companies becoming involved in translational research and as a result, the importance of government and foundations funding of translational research is growing.  

The panel closed with, EJ Levy, who talked about the importance of MS research and treatment development from the perspective of a person living with MS. EJ was diagnosed with Secondary Progressive MS in 2002 at age 33. EJ tried all of the MS therapies available at the time, but developed intolerable side effects to each of them. EJ then tried a drug that was only available through compounding pharmacies. EJ had been unable to walk without the aid of a cane or wheelchair, but three days after taking this new drug, she could walk on her own.

In 2009, EJ addressed the FDA advisory panel to recommend the approval of her MS drug, Ampyra—the drug that allowed her to walk again. Ampyra was approved shortly after in 2010. While Ampyra does not work for everyone, the important thing is that it is approved and available to others with MS and EJ hopes it will help as many as possible.

Meanwhile, EJ continues her personal quest, having established the not-for-profit organization MS Hope for a Cure in 2007, which raises funds for research and programs for people living with MS. In 2011, EJ was appointed to the Society’s NOW Campaign Cabinet and is traveling the country to help raise funds and awareness about MS.

Thank you to all of the panelists for providing their perspectives, economic and personal, on the benefits of MS research!

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