New aggressive ALS drug trials getting underway in Connecticut, offering hope


MYSTIC, Conn. (WTNH) — New, aggressive ALS drug trials are getting underway in Connecticut, offering hope to patients and their families affected by the disease.

Linda and Mike Cavanaugh had what could be called a lifetime of happiness in their time together. Mike was active, enjoying sailing, riding his bicycle, and being with friends. At the age of 49, what he thought was a bike-related injury turned out to be something much more. He was eventually diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

They quickly got Mike into a drug trial, and it actually slowed his symptoms greatly, but a legal issue led to the trial’s cancellation, and a sad reality.

“We realized that after he stopped taking the medication that his symptoms started to increase pretty quickly,” says Linda. She says he chose not to enroll in any more time consuming and exhausting drug trials.

“Mike was an incredible man, I probably will get a little emotional talking about him. His grace and his strength came through in his six and a half years,” recalls Linda, who experienced the emotional journey with her husband until he lost his battle in 2017.

Linda and Mike Cavanaugh

Now ALS drug trials will be tackled in a completely different fashion. 800 ALS patients across the country will take part in trials that will take months instead of years, and they will be receiving a handful of pharmaceuticals to try at the same time instead of just one. It’s a method called the Healey Platform Project at Massachusetts General Hospital. It has been used previously on cancer drugs.

The Hospital for Special Care in New Britain is one of 54 sites chosen to participate in the excitement of the hospital’s Chief of Neuromuscular Medicine, Dr. Kevin Felice, who was also one of Mike Cavanaugh’s doctors.

“It’s really an exciting time for ALS care and the treatment of ALS patients not only have we identified new drugs that are FDA approved, but we think that in the future we’ll be able to use newer medications that slow the disease down even further,” says Dr. Felice.

The Healey platform is a collaboration of medical professionals, clinicians, and pharmaceutical companies working together. The platform claims that it will reduce the cost of ALS research by 30%, decrease trial time by 50%, and increasing patient participation by 67%. Fewer patients will get placebos as well.

“I’ve been doing ALS clinical trials for 30 years and I’ve never seen as much enthusiasm as I’ve seen over the last year for treatment trials. Patients are extremely excited to get involved in these trials,” he adds.

Dr. Felice says he treats roughly 275 of the 300 ALS patients in Connecticut.

One of the drugs Dr. Felice and his team will be using is created by New Haven-based Biohaven Pharmaceuticals.

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