Lawrence Steinman honored for research on ties between EBV, MS

Professor of neurology is also leading development of PAS002 in MS treatment

Teresa Carvalho, MS avatar

by Teresa Carvalho, MS |

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Lawrence Steinman, MD, a professor of neurology who is leading the development of Pasithea Therapeutics‘ PAS002 for the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS) has received the 2023 Pioneer in Medicine Award.

The prize is given by the Society for Brain Mapping & Therapeutics (SBMT) and the World Brain Mapping Foundation to physicians, engineers, and researchers who have made significant contributions in the field of brain mapping and therapeutics.

Steinman received the award for his contributions in identifying the similarities between the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) protein EBNA-1 and the brain protein GlialCAM that may underlie MS development.

The award was delivered last week at the 20th Annual Encounter for the Cure, part of the 20th Annual World Congress of SBMT.

“It is an honor to be recognized by such a prestigious body of peers, especially in its 20th year of leadership in the field of brain mapping and therapeutics,” Steinman, Pasithea’s chairman and a professor at the National Academy of Sciences, said in a company press release.

“MS is a debilitating disease that requires research into effective therapies and innovation in immunization. I dedicate my career to advancing these therapies for the thousands suffering from neurological diseases globally,” added Steinman, who was involved in the development of Tysabri (natalizumab) and Briumvi (ublituximab), two approved MS therapies.

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EBV a leading cause of MS

In MS, the immune system wrongly attacks myelin, a fatty substance that covers nerve fibers and is essential for rapid neuronal communication.

EBV has recently emerged as a leading cause of MS, increasing its risk by 32 times, and Steinman and his colleagues demonstrated the association between the viral infection and the neurodegenerative condition may be attributed to resemblances between two proteins, which is known as molecular mimicry.

GlialCAM is a molecule predominantly present in oligodendrocytes, the cells chiefly responsible for producing myelin in the brain and spinal cord. In their study, the researchers showed GlialCAM bears structural resemblances to an EBV protein called EBNA-1. Thus, when the body mounts an immune response against the viral protein, it also ends up attacking GlialCAM, leading to myelin loss and nerve damage.

The findings prompted Pasithea to develop its PAS002, a vaccine that aims to dampen the harmful immune attacks on myelin by promoting immune tolerance to GlialCAM. The DNA vaccine delivers GlialCAM’s DNA to the body, triggering the production of the GlialCAM protein by the body’s cellular machinery. Once produced, the protein is seen as safe by the immune system because it is a part of the body’s natural components.

According to data from a preclinical study, PAS002 successfully prevented the disease from developing in 50% of mice with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), a common mouse model of MS. In animals that developed symptoms, the treatment also significantly decreased the severity of the disease.

Now, the prize distinguished Steinman for his “pioneering work in the field, including elucidating the molecular mimicry between EBNA-1 and GlialCAM, and its role in the pathogenesis of MS,” SBMT noted.

Previous recipients of the award include Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel, MD, and Michael E. Phelps, PhD, the inventor of positron emission tomography (PET) scans.