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Biol Blood Marrow Transplant. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2011 Aug 1.
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PMCID: PMC2897916

Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation for Multiple Sclerosis: Collaboration of the CIBMTR and EBMT to Facilitate International Clinical Studies


For over a decade, clinical investigation of autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HCT) as therapy for multiple sclerosis (MS) has been ongoing. Several phase II studies have been completed or are in progress; however, no definitive prospective randomized studies comparing HCT versus alternative therapies for MS have been completed. The objectives of this 1.5 day workshop were to review ongoing studies of the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR) and European Group for Blood and Marrow Transplantation (EBMT) in MS, including harmonization of the MS disease specific report forms, and to explore mechanisms by which the databases might serve as a resource to facilitate collaboration on the scale needed for pivotal studies. We sought to critically review progress to date in HCT for MS, identify challenges to the advancement of this therapeutic modality, and discuss opportunities for future collaborative clinical trials. Meeting participants included HCT physicians, neurologists, and imaging experts with particular interest in MS clinical research and immunologic mechanisms from North America and Europe.


The purpose of high-dose immunosuppressive therapy (HDIT) with autologous HCT is to stop inflammation associated with MS,1,2 and thereby preserve neurologic function. The autologous graft serves to rescue hematopoietic activity after HDIT, or in the case of less immunosuppressive therapy to reduce the time to recovery of blood counts. Generation of a new and diverse T cell immune response may be one mechanism of action to explain remission of inflammatory disease activity which extends much longer than the duration of immune suppression (Figure 1).3 Currently, MS is the most common autoimmune disease indication for autologous HCT.46 Following the initial promising clinical experience7 over 350 consecutive cases have been reported by the EBMT during the last decade.8,9 Most patients who received autologous HCT for MS in the early studies had secondary progressive (SP) MS and relatively fewer had relapsing remitting (RR) disease, with Kurtzke Extended Disability Severity Scores (EDSS)10 at time of transplantation ranging from 3.0 to 9.5.4 Improvements in supportive care and better patient selection have contributed to improved outcomes with a significant reduction in transplant related mortality to 1.3% during 2001–2007.4,6 Recent studies have enrolled patients with earlier disease and are supportive of a role for intense immunosuppression with autologous HCT as treatment for rapidly evolving MS unresponsive to conventional therapies.1114 Clinical studies performed to date have recently been comprehensively reviewed,4 and the retrospective report of the EBMT database in MS has been updated.8,9

Figure 1
Possible Outcomes of Autologous HCT for MS

At least one prospective randomized and other single arm phase II studies of autologous HCT for MS are currently active in the US, Canada and Europe (Table 1). Since it is now generally accepted that timing of HDIT relatively early in disease to reduce inflammation before irreversible neuronal damage occurs is important, these studies target MS patients with active disease and worsening disability as evidenced clinically by relapses, change in EDSS, and/or inflammatory MRI activity, and who have failed at least one approved first-line immunomodulatory MS therapy for enrollment. Three of the studies have either completed or closed to enrollment during 2009, and follow up of several years will be needed to evaluate outcomes, which will in turn be important for design of the next clinical trial(s).

Table 1
Phase II Studies in Autologous HCT for MS


Both the CIBMTR and the EBMT collect information about patients with MS who have received HCT. The CIBMTR operates under a US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) mandate to collect information about all patients who receive either related or unrelated allogeneic HCT for any indication; reporting of autologous HCT is voluntary. Most European centers report both allogeneic and autologous HCT to the EBMT, although the requirement to report allogeneic HCT depends on the country, and reporting of autologous HCT is voluntary. As a part of this workshop, representatives of the Autoimmune Diseases Working Committee of the CIBMTR, and the Autoimmune Diseases Working Party of the EBMT, met to revise and harmonize the research forms in HCT for MS that will be used in the future by both registries. (See Table 2 and Figure 2). To complete registry forms at the patient care sites, close partnerships between the transplant and neurology services will be needed. Two registry-based studies of HCT for MS were discussed.

Figure 2
Time Course of MS and Pre- and Post-HCT Events for MS Research Forms
Table 2
Multiple Sclerosis Forms Harmonization by CIBMTR and EBMT


To assess long term follow up of patients who received autologous HCT for MS, CIBMTR and EBMT have approved a collaborative cross-sectional and retrospective study of patients transplanted between five and twelve years previously. Up to 250 patients from the combined registries may be eligible for further study. We will obtain information about disease status at baseline, and the transplant regimen used for each patient. Progression free survival will be the primary outcome. Secondary outcomes under consideration include interval change in MS-specific imaging (evolution of MRI MS-specific lesion load and presence of MS-specific gadolinium-enhancing lesions), time to progression, overall survival, causes of death, response to MS-specific treatment if needed post transplant and incidence of transplant-related late effects and secondary malignancies.

Feasibility issues for this type of long term follow up study of HCT for MS include: lack of comparable quality baseline data for the variety of patients and regimens that contribute to the CIBMTR and EBMT databases and differences in MS eligibility criteria for studies conducted a decade ago, as compared to today. To obtain a history of the course of disease retrospectively, participation of a study neurologist will be needed. Unambiguous milestones will need to be specified. Inclusion of only subjects who were enrolled in any clinical trial (not necessarily a transplant study) and from a center committed to clinical trials investigation may be preferable as such individuals will be more likely to have sufficient documentation of their MS disease course. MRI findings consistent with MS activity include: new gadolinium-enhancing and/or new T2 lesions. Comparison of imaging findings may be difficult, due either to outdated techniques or absence of such evaluations. Quantitative assessment of lesion load may not be possible for this type of study. The newly harmonized MS disease-specific research forms will be utilized to collect post transplant information for this long term follow up study, which will be a collaborative project of the CIBMTR and EBMT. For sites reporting to CIBMTR, limited reimbursement is available for completion of the MS-specific research forms.


To investigate the potential of allogeneic HCT to stabilize or cure MS, we have performed a cross sectional and retrospective clinical study to assess outcomes for eleven patients with coexistent MS who received allogeneic HCT for hematologic malignancy. The experience of allogeneic HCT for autoimmune diseases is limited as, due to the generally unfavorable risk-benefit ratio, this approach may be considered only for those having very advanced nonmalignant diseases.15 There are currently no clinical trials of allogeneic HCT as therapy for MS. However, for patients with coincident autoimmune disease who receive allogeneic HCT for treatment of malignancy, investigation of MS-related outcomes provides an opportunity to understand how transplant affects the patient’s autoimmune disease, and also the effects of the underlying immune dysregulation on transplant outcomes.16 Subjects were identified through research of the CIBMTR database or personal contact with transplant physicians worldwide. Ten patients alive at the time of initiation of this study, and pathologic samples from one patient who expired after allogeneic HCT were evaluated. Study participants received comprehensive follow up including clinical neurologic and MRI evaluations, after informed consent. Publication is pending. (Richard A. Nash, personal communication). In addition, Lu et al17 have reported on a single patient with mild MS who received a myeloablative preparative regimen and allogeneic HCT from a HLA matched unrelated donor for chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). The patient developed GVHD and worsening, but not new, neurologic symptoms. At 140 days post-HCT, following demise due to adenovirus hepatitis, post mortem CNS examination revealed ongoing active and chronic active MS lesions. Most hematolymphatic cells in the brain were recipient cells, even though only donor cells were detected in peripheral blood. Further study of such cases will be needed to fully evaluate the potential of allogeneic HCT to affect the clinical course, and toxicities particular to this therapy, for patients with MS.


During the next few years, as the phase II clinical trials of HCT for MS currently underway come to completion, it will be important to plan ahead for the next studies with special emphasis on randomized phase III trials. This will be especially critical in the event international multicenter collaboration is desired. Major issues in study design and implementation include the following.


Patient accrual has been a challenge for clinical trials of autologous HCT for MS. Lack of wide acceptance by the neurology community due to the investigational status of the therapy, an insufficient number of transplant teams that include strong functional partnerships between transplant and disease specialists, absence of training programs in the field of HCT for autoimmune diseases, narrow eligibility criteria, referral patterns to transplant centers, and difficulty obtaining third party payer approval to cover costs of HCT in the US and some European countries are the most important impediments to accrual. The neurology community has been cautious to consider autologous HCT for MS due to concerns about safety, including toxicities and the risk of mortality in a disorder that, at least in the short term, is not life threatening. The relatively high toxicity of transplant versus existing and experimental new therapies has been a major disincentive for many neurologists to refer MS patients to transplant studies, in the absence of convincing evidence of efficacy. Furthermore, there is little enthusiasm to refer patients for additional phase II studies, given the general acceptance that a phase III randomized clinical trial is what is needed to evaluate efficacy. Given the concerns about risk-benefit of the procedure, entry criteria for early studies were highly selective for poor prognosis patients with aggressive MS that was too advanced, although, as outcomes have improved, it has become feasible to consider more broad entry criteria. As is entirely appropriate for a disease with a natural history that may be devastating in the long term, and no known cure, other potential novel therapies and competing drugs for MS are continually being developed; studies of this type may attract patients otherwise eligible for HCT. Sullivan et al18 have described the recent challenges of obtaining insurance coverage in the US for a NIH-sponsored clinical trial of autologous HCT for autoimmune disease. Finally, patients may be reluctant to enroll in randomized studies, due to individual treatment preferences of one study arm over another.


A multidisciplinary team with expertise in neurology, imaging, immunology, hematology and transplantation is needed to design and manage studies of HCT for MS. Close partnership that includes real time consultation of neurology and HCT physicians is needed both during and in follow up of the transplant procedure, to provide the best patient care and to appropriately evaluate disease response.


The 30–40 year time course of evolution of MS,19 and heterogeneity of the disease, necessitate several years of clinical follow up and relatively large sample sizes for meaningful assessment of clinical trial endpoints. Clinical assessments include comparison of cumulative functional disability measured using the EDSS10 and / or number of clinical relapses and / or time to clinical relapse in one treatment arm, relative to the other. Success is then defined as less progression of EDSS and / or fewer relapses and / or a longer time to relapse and / or progression. The requirement or not for further immunomodulatory therapy may serve as an adjunct outcome. In contrast, to allow the opportunity of smaller sample size and shorter follow up, recent clinical studies to evaluate alternative drug therapies for MS have frequently used improvement of clinical status following treatment in one arm relative to the other as an outcome.20 However, it is unclear whether early improvements in disability indeed translate into longer progression free survival or other improvements in later MS outcomes after HCT. Additional clinical assessments, for example, the MS Functional Composite (MSFC) have been incorporated in recent clinical trials;2124 the MS Impact Scale (MSIS-29)25 is commonly used to assess quality of life. Investigations of MRI surrogate markers2629 and biomarkers30 of MS are ongoing.


Consideration of options for the next clinical study or group of studies is now timely. A future comparative prospective randomized clinical trial of transplant versus non-transplant treatment is clearly needed. Important questions in study design will include sample size, transplant regimen, non-transplant therapy or therapies, MS target population, and outcomes to be analyzed, including long term follow up. Issues of feasibility in study design due to the very large number of subjects required to demonstrate a significant difference between two treatment options, and/or the long period of several years of observation needed are likely to remain a challenge for future studies. Potential non-transplant comparators might include rituximab, alemtuzumab, daclizumab, cladribine, fingolimod, cyclophosphamide and mitoxantrone,3136 and/or other new therapy(s) currently in development. A composite primary endpoint which includes MRI as well as clinical functional assessments could be used for phase II efficacy studies. For phase III or pivotal clinical trials of therapy for MS, the primary endpoint is a clinical functional assessment of disease, as required by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 37 with the EDSS most commonly used for this purpose.

To continue discussion of both study design and the operational challenges for a prospective randomized study of autologous HCT for MS, representatives of this workshop met again recently as part of a larger ongoing international effort which is reported separately.38 International collaboration, including partnership with the CIBMTR and EBMT, may be desirable and may in fact be critical for successful completion of a definitive comparative study. The use of a single protocol required at all sites, vs. comparable protocols in North America and Europe, will be an important consideration. Use of a single protocol would ensure uniformity of subject entry/exclusion criteria and study design. If there are multiple protocols, comparable baseline as well as follow up assessments will be needed for all subjects. A decentralized plan would offer individual sites some degree of flexibility in site-specific protocol design and implementation and assume distributed responsibility for study costs. The regulatory challenges particular to each country will need to be addressed. Consideration of options for funding from multiple sources, for example the US National Institutes of Health, the national Multiple Sclerosis Societies, and other national and international resources will be needed.


We thank Steven Z. Pavletic, MD, and Maria Pia Sormani, MscStat, for comments on the manuscript.



Harold L. Atkins, MD, Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Ottawa General Hospital, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Linda M. Griffith, MD, PhD, Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD

Paolo A. Muraro, MD, PhD, Department of Neurology, Imperial College, London, England, UK

Richard A. Nash, MD, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and University of Washington, Seattle, WA (who was unable to attend this workshop but whose participation was contributory)

Marcelo C. Pasquini, MD, MS, Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR) and Department of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI

Riccardo Saccardi, MD, Department of Hematology, Ospedale di Careggi, Florence, Italy

Speakers and Discussants

Manza Agovi, MPH, Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR) and Department of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI

Douglas L. Arnold, MD, Department of Neurology, McGill University – Montreal Neurological Institute, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

James D. Bowen, MD, Multiple Sclerosis Center, Swedish Neuroscience Institute, Seattle, WA

Jacqueline T. Chen, PhD, Department of Neurology, McGill University – Montreal Neurological Institute, Montreal, Quebec, Canada; and Department of Neurosciences, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH

Mark S. Freedman, MD, Department of Neurology, Ottawa General Hospital, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Kay Gardner, Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR) and National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP), Minneapolis, MN

Diane J. Knutson, Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR) and Department of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI

George Howard Kraft, MD, MS, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA

Gian Luigi Mancardi, MD, Department of Neuroscience, Opthalmology and Genetics, University of Genoa, Genoa, Italy (who was unable to attend this workshop but whose participation was contributory)

Roland Martin, MD, Institute for Neuroimmunology and Clinical Multiple Sclerosis Research, Center for Molecular Neurobiology, University Medical Center, Hamburg, Germany (who was unable to attend this workshop but whose participation was contributory)

Marie Matlack, MT (ASCP), Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR) and National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP), Minneapolis, MN

Michael K. Racke, MD, Department of Neurology, Ohio State University Medical Center, Columbus, OH

Jan Storek, MD, PhD, Departments of Medicine and Oncology, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Paula A. Watry, RN, PA-C, Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR) and Department of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI


Publisher's Disclaimer: This is a PDF file of an unedited manuscript that has been accepted for publication. As a service to our customers we are providing this early version of the manuscript. The manuscript will undergo copyediting, typesetting, and review of the resulting proof before it is published in its final citable form. Please note that during the production process errors may be discovered which could affect the content, and all legal disclaimers that apply to the journal pertain.

Report of a workshop sponsored by the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR), European Group for Blood and Marrow Transplantation (EBMT), and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID); Minneapolis, MN, USA; November 9–10, 2008

The opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not represent the position of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), or the United States Government.


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