Blocking Hidden Viral Protein Shows Promise for Treating Multiple Sclerosis

Image: Shutterstock
geneuro multiple sclerosis neuron viral dna

An antibody that blocks the action of a hidden viral protein encoded by our genome shows encouraging signs of slowing down the progression of multiple sclerosis, according to the Swiss biotech GeNeuro which carried out the research.

GeNeuro’s monoclonal antibody drug targets the hidden viral protein because it’s linked to the occurrence of multiple sclerosis, a condition that damages the nervous system and causes progressive disability.

Last year, GeNeuro reported that the drug reduced the rate of brain tissue loss after one year in a phase IIb clinical trial in patients with multiple sclerosis. The company then extended the trial, continuing to treat 220 of the patients for up to another two years to test the drug’s long term effects.

Results from the extension trial were encouraging for GeNeuro. The drug’s benefits continued over the two year extension, and there were even signs of the drug slowing the progression of the disability for the first time.

This long-term effect may indicate that GeNeuro’s approach produces gradual but long-lasting results. The initial trial of the drug failed to show any benefits after six months, which prompted GeNeuro’s collaboration partner company Servier, which funded the trial, to pull out from the partnership for “strategic reasons.” However, benefits were seen after one year of treatment.

geneuro multiple sclerosis treatment neuron
Left: a healthy nerve cell. Right: a nerve cell in patients with multiple sclerosis, which loses its insulating protection and degenerates.

Currently available treatments for multiple sclerosis, as well as most therapies in development, modulate the patient’s immune system and none have shown more than a modest impact on disease progression over the long term,” Robert Glanzman, the CMO of GeNeuro, told me.

GeNeuro’s approach is unique compared with other companies targeting multiple sclerosis. The protein target of its antibody drug comes from ancient viruses that infected our ancestors, leaving viral DNA in around 8% of the human genome. This viral DNA is rarely active, but there is evidence that proteins encoded by the viral DNA contribute to conditions like multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and type 1 diabetes.

Though Servier and GeNeuro are no longer partners, Servier remains as one of GeNeuro’s shareholders. Servier has entered new drug development partnerships, including one with the French company Oncodesign this week, and GeNeuro is in negotiations with a possible partner to start a clinical trial confirming the optimal drug dose to use in future.

In addition to multiple sclerosis, GeNeuro is hoping to treat other diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and type 1 diabetes, which it believes are also linked to similar, hidden viral proteins. The same antibody drug was found to be safe in patients with type 1 diabetes in a phase IIa trial, and GeNeuro expects to publish the 12-month trial results later this year. 

Images from Shutterstock

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