ALS Society of Canada

ALS Society of Canada

April 13, 2009 09:30 ET

A Blockbuster Approach to Funding ALS Research

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - April 13, 2009) - Two seemingly disparate strands - a runaway blockbuster and a clinical trial of a promising new therapeutic approach to a fatal neuromuscular disease - are being woven together in a new initiative by the ALS Society of Canada.

The first strand is a short memoir called Tuesdays with Morrie, which catapulted a little-known disease into the forefront of world attention in 1997; the success of the book has kept it there ever since. More than 11 million copies of Tuesdays with Morrie have been sold worldwide, and it spent more than four years on The New York Times best seller list. The story was adapted as a television movie in 1999 and as a play that was performed in New York City in 2002.

Most people know the story: sports columnist Mitch Albom reconnects with his former college professor, Morrie Schwartz, who is in the final stages of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Albom spends 14 Tuesday afternoons with his mentor, learning anew about life, laughter and love. But the clock is ticking. Albom knows that the final lesson will be about death: ALS is an unforgiving disease and there are no survivors.

Across the ocean, another strand. In 2008, a small Italian study of 44 people published the results of a 15-month trial: daily doses of the drug lithium, used to treat bipolar disorder, taken together with riluzole, significantly slowed the progression of ALS. By year's end, the ALS Society of Canada proudly announced the launch of the first Canadian national clinical trial. The objective of the trial is to confirm the effectiveness of lithium in slowing the progression of ALS in patients in the early stages of the disease.

"Since there is no cure for ALS yet, research into treatments gives hope to ALS patients and their families," explains David Cameron, president and CEO of ALS Canada.

This remarkable achievement was made possible as a result of ALS Canada's leadership role in facilitating the establishment of the Canadian ALS Clinical Trials and Research Network (CALS). CALS is a consortium of ALS clinicians across the country who have incorporated to develop and deliver groundbreaking treatments and scientific discoveries that will forever change the future of Canadian ALS research. The lithium trial is the first joint effort between CALS and the Northeastern ALS Consortium (NEALS) in the United States.

One year after the publication of the Italian study, the Canadian lithium clinical trial, under the leadership of Dr. Lorne Zinman, medical director of the ALS Clinic at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, is underway. At nearly $1,000,000, the trial is the largest ALS Canada research commitment to date. ALS Canada is able to make this investment thanks to the generous support of the Temerty Family Foundation: their gift of $250,000 is the largest solicited gift that ALS Canada has ever received.

Denise Figlewicz, PhD, director of research at ALS Canada says, "The promising results from the Italian study data served as the impetus for new research and treatment strategies. This is very exciting news for the ALS community."

And now, these two separate strands - Tuesdays with Morrie and the lithium trial - are being woven together. To fund the trial and our other important research initiatives, ALS Canada is hosting the exclusive opening night of the stage version of Tuesdays with Morrie on Friday, May 8, at the Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto. The play is being mounted by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company. It will be directed by Gemini Award-winning actor/director Ted Dykstra. The role of Morrie will be played by Hal Linden, star of the 1970s police comedy Barney Miller, and Rick Roberts of Traders fame will play Mitch.

For tickets or for more information, please contact: Laurie Pringle at 416-497-2267 ext. 219 or lp@als.ca

About ALS:

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a fatal neuromuscular disease that attacks and paralyzes the muscles, ultimately resulting in death. ALS can affect men and women from any ethnic origin at any age. Approximately 2,500-3,000 Canadians are living with the disease. And 80 per cent of those affected will die within two to five years of diagnosis. According to the World Health Organization, neurodegenerative diseases are predicted to surpass cancer as the second leading cause of death in Canada by 2040.

About the ALS Society of Canada:

The ALS Society of Canada was founded in 1977. ALS Canada is the only national voluntary organization dedicated solely to the fight against ALS and to support for those with ALS. The mission of the ALS Society of Canada is to fund research towards a cure for ALS and to support provincial Societies to provide quality care for those affected by ALS. www.als.ca.

Contact Information

  • ALS Society of Canada
    Bobbi Greenberg
    Director of Communications
    416-497-2267 ext. 208
    bg@als.ca
    www.als.ca