With approximately 2.5 million patients worldwide, multiple sclerosis (MS) is one of the most common causes of permanent neurological disability in young adults.
So far, there is no cure for MS. Current treatments merely reduce the incidence of disease relapse, and they carry the risk of severe side effects caused by inhibiting the patient’s immune system. What is needed is a long-lasting therapy that will specifically target the harmful autoimmune response without affecting the rest of the immune system.
A team led by Professor Roland Martin has developed an innovative therapy known as ETIMS (Establish Tolerance in MS). This therapy employs the patient’s white blood cells, chemically coupling them with myelin peptides. These altered blood cells then target the immune cells responsible for inflammation and stop the autoimmune process by educating the immune system to tolerate structures such as myelin. This approach has been successfully tested in MS patients in a first-in-man trial.
At Wyss Zurich, the ETIMSred team has advanced this therapy by using red instead of white blood cells to induce immune tolerance. Since it is easier to collect a large number of red blood cells from patients, this approach has substantially improved the feasibility of the treatment. A key objective of the ETIMSred project is also to establish the safety, tolerability, and efficacy of this new approach in a Phase I/II clinical trial in MS patients.
ETIMSred’s startup company Cellerys signed a cooperation agreement with Novartis in June 2021. Novartis will now support further development of the therapy, which is currently in a Phase II clinical trial.