Don’t Jump to Conclusions Over a Breakthrough MS Vaccine Just Yet

Don’t Jump to Conclusions Over a Breakthrough MS Vaccine Just Yet
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A medical website’s headline screamed, “Breakthrough Multiple Sclerosis Vaccine Shows Impressive Results In Study.” The New York Daily News joined in, highlighting a potential “breakthrough” vaccine. Other media outlets also were using similar adjectives earlier this month. Unfortunately, it’s normal media hype.

I suspect some of it was was encouraged because the company sponsoring the research is BioNTech, which helped to develop one of the COVID-19 vaccines. Now, the company is testing its mRNA vaccine model to see if it can be used to reduce the type of inflammation that destroys myelin.

As is typical in these cases, cheerleading by traditional media has generated a lot of social media buzz. People with MS have been sharing these stories and sounding a little like “The Little Engine That Could,” repeating, “I think I can, I think I can.” 

But hold that train.

It’s a long way to the final stop

I’d like to see a vaccine that can protect our myelin as much as anyone, but I believe we’re still a long way from that day. As Marta Figueiredo pointed out here at Multiple Sclerosis News Today, the research in the previously mentioned stories comes from a mouse study.

It’s true, the investigational vaccine did prevent disease development in those rodents. In mice with early-stage MS, the vaccine candidate halted progression and restored some lost motor function. But those mice didn’t actually have multiple sclerosis, they were infected with an illness that is similar to MS, called experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis. Also, we’re talking about mice, not men or women.

Don’t jump to conclusions

I don’t like writing about mice studies. A potential treatment may do well on a mouse, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll have the same results in humans. In fact, some researchers are fond of saying mice lie and monkeys exaggerate. There’s even a Twitter account dedicated to this concept.

After the mice tests come the monkeys. If the treatment passes monkey muster, there are then human tests, usually done in three phases. Don’t expect this clinical testing to move at anything like “warp speed,” either. It will likely take years.

As the MS Research Australia website puts it, “While this is an exciting research development, this is still in an early research phase. There are differences between human MS and EAE. … So while this is exciting research, several hurdles need to be cleared before we are likely to see such strategies trialed in humans. In the case of MS, the search for the exact target of the immune system continues.”

They took the words right out of my mouth. Let’s halt the hype that gives false hope. Instead, let’s report, without exclamation points, that another research project is producing some positive results that may, several years from now, lead to an MS vaccine.

Do you agree, or do you consider this to actually be an MS breakthrough? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. You’re also invited to visit my personal blog at www.themswire.com.

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Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

Diagnosed with MS at age 32 in 1980, Ed has written the “MS Wire” column for Multiple Sclerosis News Today since August 2016. He presents timely information on MS, blended with personal experiences. Before retiring from full-time work in 2012, Tobias spent more than four decades in broadcast and on-line newsrooms as a manager, reporter, and radio news anchor. He’s won several national broadcast awards. As an MS patient communicator, Ed consults with healthcare and social media companies. He’s the author of “We’re Not Drunk, We Have MS: A tool kit for people living with multiple sclerosis.” Ed and his wife split time between the Washington, D.C. suburbs and Florida’s Gulf Coast.
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Diagnosed with MS at age 32 in 1980, Ed has written the “MS Wire” column for Multiple Sclerosis News Today since August 2016. He presents timely information on MS, blended with personal experiences. Before retiring from full-time work in 2012, Tobias spent more than four decades in broadcast and on-line newsrooms as a manager, reporter, and radio news anchor. He’s won several national broadcast awards. As an MS patient communicator, Ed consults with healthcare and social media companies. He’s the author of “We’re Not Drunk, We Have MS: A tool kit for people living with multiple sclerosis.” Ed and his wife split time between the Washington, D.C. suburbs and Florida’s Gulf Coast.

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23 comments

  1. Kate says:

    I think it’s a great step in the right direction.. I don’t get overalls excited about these things anymore (I’ve had my diagnosis since I was 25, I’m now 42), these things take time. However my fingers and toes (on the days that I can) are crossed when I hear things like this.

    • Ed Tobias says:

      Hi Kate,

      I can’t argue with that. I was diagnosed when I was 32. I’m now 72. A lot of progress has been made over those four decades and I hope this research will produce even more. But I also hope that people will read past the headlines and realize that this “breakthrough” will take time, if it happens at all. I’m crossing everything I can cross, too.

      Ed

  2. Tom Harrison says:

    People need to have hope. Its hard to understand why a vaccine thats less then a year old is given to 100s of millions if not billions of healthy people when a few million of chronically ill people with an incurable debilitating disease keep being told that a promising vaccine or treatment might not be safe or help. Many of those people would take the risk to try it, if not to help further a treatment for future MSers.
    Why would it take longer to test this vaccine on people with MS vs the Covid vaccine on healthy individuals? I ask you, Ed.
    It seems there is a huge potential financial hit to the MS drug vendors like Biogen, Genentech and others that control the space. Huge pressure to not develop something like this.

    • Ed Tobias says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Tom, but DMTs and contagious diseases are two different things.

      COVID is caused by a virus that appears to be becoming even more contagious. MS, of course, isn’t. Could/should the testing of MS treatments be done at “warp speed.” Sure. The same could be said for cancer treatments or those for any disease. Putting aside the matter of pharmaceutical firm profits, there are some killer viruses, like Zika or sars-cov-2, that threaten the world’s physical and economic health. They deserve special treatment.

      Ed

        • Ed Tobias says:

          Vivianne,

          I’m not trying to dodge anything. I’ll try to be more specific:

          TOM: Why would it take longer to test this vaccine on people with MS vs the Covid vaccine on healthy individuals? I ask you, Ed.

          ED: My guess is because governments pushed a ton of money to pharma companies, and rushed some safety reviews, to develop a vaccine to protect against a deadly virus that was overwhelming healthcare services around the world.

          TOM: It seems there is a huge potential financial hit to the MS drug vendors like Biogen, Genentech and others that control the space. Huge pressure to not develop something like this.

          ED: You might assume that, but I’ve not seen evidence of “huge pressure not to develop something like this.” Can you point me to some?

          Ed

    • Vivianne says:

      Thank you Tom. Very well said and I must say I agree with you as a caregiver and a friend of someone who is suffering.
      Ed I saw your response. Seems like you failed to answer the valid questions raised.

      • Ed Tobias says:

        Dear R101,

        I am an independent freelance writer who has lived with MS for 40 years. Before retiring I was a journalist with the Associated Press, perhaps the most objective news organization in the world. At the BioNews, the corporation that runs this website, there is a firewall between advertising and editorial content. Advertising does not affect what I write and I pledge to report facts, document the sources of my information and make it clear when you’re reading my opinion.

        I think you’ll find this to be true if you review the hundreds of columns that I’ve written over the past four and a half years for this website.

        Ed

    • Gioconda says:

      Tom, I totally agree with you! I was thinking that too.
      In any case, in my body this MS thing has felt like a virus, that only acts out in times of highly unhappy periods of my life.

  3. Mary says:

    Years ago I was a healthcare reporter for a daily newspaper. I got daily PR pitches. My standard was : no mice. If this new drug/vaccine/ therapy was not a study in humans and available soon, I would not use valuable new space on it.

  4. Jason says:

    I got diagnosed March last year and just some steroids put it back into remission but being a man of 38 this is something to keep an eye out on for to see if it comes into fruition. All we’ve got is either DMT’s of the very expensive Stem Cell route and both are not a cure. So if a vaccination to heal or prevent this debilitating disease I’ll cross every appendage and wait! This may happen this may not but it’s one step in the right direction.

  5. Peter Weeds says:

    I agree that mouse studies should be treated as only potentially indicative when concerning drugs. Research conducted in Cambridge showed that mice on a fasting or fasting mimicking diet had accelerated and more complete myelin repair. This is something we can all try… that is fasting. I choose not to eat before 5pm weekdays. Anything goes at the weekend, but not during the week. Side effect? Weight loss of 25Kg! Now stabilised and feeling good. Male, MS diagnosis aged 57.

  6. pina says:

    Hola, mi diagnóstico fue a los 36 años. Solamente tenía hormigueos en pie derecho y alguna vez parestesia en una pierna. Así cinco años, que comienzo interferón indicado por especialista en em.
    Cinco años de tratamiento y mi em se congeló, tenía una vida totalmente normal, no sabía lo que era padecer la enfermedad. Lamentablemente la neuróloga que veía después, no creía en el medicamento y me niega continuar el mismo. A los tres años muy lentamente comienza a progresar, enterarme en ese entonces, que no existía tratamiento para detenerla.
    Cuando escuché en la televisión, que de alguna manera y gracias a la pandemia, se había descubierto una vacuna de ARNn que era muy prometedora para los que padecemos esta terrible enfermedad. No imaginan la alegría que sentí, ya que no pierdo las esperanzas de poder mejorar. Pena que lleve años los ensayos clínicos, y la vida se nos va.
    Saludos para todos.

    • Ed Tobias says:

      BELOW IS A GOOGLE TRANSLATION OF THE ABOVE COMMENT.

      Hello, my diagnosis was at 36 years old. He only had tingling in his right foot and occasionally paresthesia in one leg. So five years, I start interferon indicated by specialist in em.
      Five years of treatment and my em froze, I had a totally normal life, I didn’t know what it was like to suffer from the disease. Unfortunately, the neurologist I saw later did not believe in the drug and denied me continuing it. At the age of three, it very slowly began to progress, I found out at that time that there was no treatment to stop it.
      When I heard on television, that somehow and thanks to the pandemic, an RNAn vaccine had been discovered that was very promising for those of us who suffer from this terrible disease. You cannot imagine the joy I felt, since I do not lose hope of being able to improve. It’s a pain that clinical trials take years, and life is going away.
      Greetings to all.

  7. Jay says:

    I wish we would focus on parasites infestation/infection in the central nervous system! Kill the infection and kill the parasites get our lives back! Not rocket science, but the they control the narrative.

  8. Jake Smith says:

    I don’t understand the modern fad of denigrating and dismissing anything short of a certainty as “false hope.” Hope does not imply certainty. Hope is a feeling or desire for something that is not guaranteed. I fail to see how it’s even possible for a feeling or desire to be “false.” But, who am I to stand in the way of the latest catch phrase. If it will be make you happy we’ll all promise to be hopeless from now on.

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