Publication date: 05/09/2019
Researchers from the Universities of Hasselt and Maastricht have succeeded for in stimulating renewed production of myelin, a substance which becomes damaged in MS, in experimental animal models for the disease. ‘These research results can be an important step towards a treatment for progressive MS,’ say Prof. Tim Vanmierlo and Dr Lize Piccart, who thanks to a VLAIO ‘innovation mandate’ grant are now taking this research further with the biotech company Rewind Therapeutics.
‘Multiple sclerosis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the central nervous system,’ says Prof. Vanmierlo. ‘Your own immune system attacks the protective coating of insulation around nerve cells called myelin, causing the nerves to die.’
During the first, inflammatory phase of MS, the patient experiences a series of relapse and remission phases. After 10 to 15 years the chronic phase usually follows, in which no further recovery occurs: this is what is known as progressive MS.
‘In this progressive phase, the protective myelin in the brain is not adequately repaired, creating motor and cognitive problems for the patient,’ says Dr Piccart.
For the first phase, various drugs are already available that inhibit the disease, but at present there is no treatment that stimulates the production of new myelin during the progressive phase of MS.
Important step in research towards a potential therapy
‘We’ve succeeded to actively stimulate myelin repair,’ says Tim Vanmierlo. ‘We do this by suppressing the action of specific enzymes that are decisive in reducing myelin production.’
Research at Maastricht University by Prof. Jos Prickaerts had previously shown that these enzymes are implicated in cognitive problems associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
These results may represent an important step in the development of a repair-inducing medicine to treat progressive MS.
‘Of course a lot of research is still needed, but you have to view this as a big jigsaw puzzle. We’ve now succeeded in putting an important part of the puzzle in place for recovery against progressive MS. What we now need to do is look for the missing pieces to further develop and translate our findings into an application for patients,’ says Lize Piccart.
Research encouraged by innovation mandate
For this search for the latest puzzle pieces, Lize Piccart is now collaborating with the biotech company Rewind Therapeutics. A young company that focuses on the development of therapies for diseases that affect the myelin layer in the brain. We’re supported by an innovation mandate from VLAIO for this joint work,’ says Lize. This is a grant from the Flemish government that aims to narrow the gap between fundamental scientific research and the business world.
‘Hopefully this could mean that the steps we’ve taken at the cellular level in the lab may one day change the lives of many MS patients,’ says Lize.
‘BIOMED is very happy with this support from VLAIO, which means that we can now take further important steps in the continuing development of a new potential medication for MS,’ says Niels Hellings, director of BIOMED. ‘We’re therefore really looking forward to working with Rewind Therapeutics, one of the key new players in the Flemish biotech sector.’
As a company focused on developing small molecules to promote remyelination, Rewind Therapeutics is delighted to have the opportunity to work with the BIOMED team on this important project.
Ian J. Reynolds, CEO of Rewind Therapeutics, said: “Delaying the progression of disability in multiple sclerosis is the next major hurdle in the treatment of this disease, and the research in this project could lead to advances that allow us to overcome that hurdle”.
This research received fundings from VLAIO innovation mandate, FWO, Fondation Charcot Stichting, MS Liga België, MS Liga Vlaanderen and the Transnational University of Limburg
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