MS news notes: ATA188, biomarkers for MS progression

Columnist Ed Tobias comments on the week's top MS news

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by Ed Tobias |

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Welcome to “MS News Notes,” a column where I comment on multiple sclerosis (MS) news stories that caught my eye last week. Here’s a look at what’s been happening:

ATA188 fails a big test

ATA188 is an experimental cell therapy developed by Atara Biotherapeutics aimed at easing MS disability by targeting the Epstein-Barr virus. A year ago, ATA188 was described as being possibly “game changing” following the results of a Phase 1 clinical trial involving people with nonactive progressive forms of MS.

But, as the MS News Today story “ATA188 fails to outperform placebo in EMBOLD clinical trial” reports, the second phase of the clinical trial produced disappointing results. Only 6% of patients on ATA188 showed disability improvement, compared with 16% of those given a placebo. As a result, Atara Biotherapeutics said it would end its ATA188 study and shift resources elsewhere.

As someone living with secondary progressive MS, I am particularly disappointed by this news, as I had hoped ATA188 would be effective at treating progressive types of this illness.

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Cerebrospinal fluid and plasma

Wouldn’t it be nice if a neurologist could get a sense of how fast a patient’s MS is likely to progress, right from the diagnosis? As reported in the story “CSF protein levels at diagnosis may help predict MS long-term outcomes,” researchers in Sweden are studying protein levels in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and plasma in search of a biomarker that could predict that progression. This could lead to better treatment strategies for MS that are personalized to each patient.

The researchers say that better personalization could help to avoid both over- or under-treating patients while maintaining the best drug efficacy. They think that doing so could help to reduce possible side effects and treatment costs.

A short window

Another type of biomarker is called neurofilament light chain (NfL), which can indicate nerve damage. The story “High blood NfL levels predict greater MS disability in year or two: Study” reports that once those levels increase to a certain point, the window for using a disease-modifying therapy to reduce disease progression may be very short — perhaps a year or two.

Study co-author Jens Kuhle said that “monitoring NfL levels might be able to detect disease activity with higher sensitivity than clinical exam or conventional imaging.”

Because these levels can be seen to increase before disease progression is noticed by patients, monitoring them with a blood test might allow more aggressive treatment to be started sooner, which to me sounds like an excellent idea.

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.


Mary Davis avatar

Mary Davis

A personal question, did your current neurologist tell you are secondary-progressive?

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Mary,

No, I was never told that I had secondary-progressive...nor was the name relapsing-remitting ever used when I was DXed in 1980. And, that's fine with me. I know how I feel and what my MS is doing, or isn't doing. I don't need no stinkin' names for it. It is what it is. :-)



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