Early tests on mice show the drug benztropine stimulates the production of nerve-repairing cells.
Scientists hit on the drug after screening 100,000 compounds for their abilitly to trigger the development of cells that rebuild damaged myelin, the fatty sheath surrounding nerve fibres.
In mice bred to have an MS-like condition, benztropine showed a powerful ability to prevent the disease developing. It was also effective once symptoms emerged and virtually eliminated relapses. It complimented existing treatments such as interferon-beta and fingolimod, allowing doses to be dramatically lowered.
But the scientists stressed that benztropine is yet to be proven safe for MS patients.