The International Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Alliance, a worldwide group of MS organizations that support research efforts, has awarded three, four-year grants — called Collaborative Network Awards, and worth $6 million each — to speed work into potential treatments for progressive MS.
Found in about 15 percent of all initially diagnosed MS patients (primary progressive MS) and developing in some 65% of relapsing MS patients (secondary progressive), progressive MS is marked by a worsening in disease disability over time. To date, no identifiable progression pattern has been established for this disease, greatly complicating research into therapies.
Collaborative Network Awards aim at research into the identification and validation of drug candidates, molecular and cellular targets, and biomarkers for progressive MS, as well to accelerate the design of clinical trials for such therapies.
The three winning projects are:
• “Identifying A Biomarker Of Disability Progression For Use In Clinical Trials,” led by Douglas Arnold, MD, at McGill University in Canada, in collaboration with 16 international researchers. The team believes that changes in the brain induced by MS can be detected by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) before the disease symptoms become evident, and want to identify MRI markers that reflect disease progression, and that can be tested in clinical trials for progressive MS treatments.
• “Bioinformatics And Cell Reprogramming To Develop An In Vitro Platform To Discover New Drugs For Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (BRAVEinMS),” conducted by Gianvito Martino, MD, from the San Raffaele Hospital Milan, Italy, and a team of 13 international researchers. This project aims is to identify molecules with potential therapeutic power in progressive MS, using both rodent and human neurons to screen several drugs or compounds, and to analyze their ability to protect nerve cells or promote myelin repair (loss of myelin is the hallmark of MS). They will then confirm the protective effect of the best candidate using animal models of the disease. The team expects that, in four years, it will have identified one or two drugs to be used in clinical trials with progressive MS patients.
• “Development Of A Drug Discovery Pipeline For Progressive MS,” designed by Francisco Quintana, PhD, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the U.S., working with eight international collaborators. This project’s objective is to identify potential therapies that target innate immune cells, which have been associated with disease activity in MS and other diseases.
Each of the three Network Award winners were 2014 winners of the alliance’s Challenge Award innovation grants — claiming three of 21 innovation grants awarded that year. Eleven additional grants — Collaborative Network Planning Grants — worth a total $33 million were awarded by the group in 2015, and recipients were encouraged to apply for this year’s Collaborative Network Awards.
“I have lived with progressive MS for 20 years and I am very excited about the Alliance,” said Marie Vaillant, board vice chair of the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation, and board chair of the MS Society of Canada Ontario and Nunavut Division, in a news release. “Bringing together researchers from around the globe to understand the progression of MS, develop clinical trials and find treatments that have eluded us so far is vital to those of us who live with progressive MS.”
The Alliance is led with management from MS societies in the U.S., Canada, Italy, Australia, the U. K., and the MS International Federation, and supported by these and other organizations, including MS societies in Denmark, Spain, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
It estimates that more than 2.3 million people worldwide currently live with MS, and over 1 million people have the disease’s progressive form.