COVID-19 Research Offers Hidden Blessings for MS Treatment

I’m always trying to find the silver linings in situations. It’s not something I set out to do. It’s more a reflexive search for hope in even the worst situations, something I inherited from my mother. I suspect we all do this to some degree.

Recently I discovered two bits of pandemic research news that gave me “pure silver lining.” Who knew the pandemic could confer benefits for folks with chronic illness?

COVID-19 vaccine technology may unlock new MS treatment

In January, the German biotechnology company, BioNTech, reported that a new vaccine using the same mRNA techniques found in the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was proven effective in treating or stopping EAE in lab mice.1

Let’s decode

  • EAE (experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis): the rodent equivalent of MS.2
  • Messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA): A protein molecule found in every cell of the human body and considered a precursor to DNA — our genetic code. mRNA plays a critical role in the cellular processes we need to function.3

While COVID-19 is a virus, what researchers now know about its behavior in the immune system has identified potential new ways to stop MS symptoms and progression.

We know that MS is the outcome of a malfunctioning immune system. As with all autoimmune diseases, the immune system in a person with MS attacks healthy tissues. In MS, the myelin coating the nerves in the brain and spinal cord is the target. The result? Disruptions of signaling between the brain and other parts of the body. These miscommunications lead to problems we’re all familiar with: muscle control, sensory overload or failure, and other challenges which worsen with disease progression.

How mRNA research can help people with MS

The Johannes Gutenberg University team in Mainz, Germany who performed the research for BioNTech adapted their idea for an MS-specific vaccine from current mRNA vaccine designs specific to COVID-19. Instead of targeting a virus, however, their design wraps fatty substances around the genetic MS coding in cells to prevent the immune system from successfully attacking them.4

Results from research published in Science earlier this year showed that their MS-specific vaccine stopped active symptoms in laboratory mice with EAE and prevented further damage with early signs of MS.4

Hope in mRNA

This treatment has added value: while our current MS medications generally compromise our immune systems in order to work, mRNA does not.5 That spells hope for millions of people with MS who fear even the smallest infection will land them in the hospital.

Of course, we still need to see research that transfers to human subjects, showing effectiveness and safety. But given the treasury of what we now know about mRNA vaccines in general (thanks to COVID-19 vaccine research), this is fantastic news. Some now declare it the “mRNA revolution.”6,7

I, for one, am happy to see it taking place.

FDA approves new nasal treatment with roots in COVID-19 treatment for SPMS

Just this month, the FDA approved the use of an antibody, delivered in a nasal spray, to treat people with secondary-progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS).

More decoding

  • The antibody, foralumab, belongs to the “-mab” family of monoclonal antibodies.
  • What do “-mabs” do? They’re the good guys. They mimic the antibodies that your immune system already naturally produces in response to invaders. Consider them your personal immune system army.
  • Other familiar “-mabs” include ocrelizumab (Ocrevus), daclizumab (Zinbryta), alemtuzumab (Lemtrada), rituximab (Rituxan), and natalizumab (Tysabri).8

This will be the first time a nasal antibody will be administered to someone with SPMS. Treatment with foralumab may start experimentally with a single patient at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard University in Boston as soon as June 2021. Researchers expect the treatment protocol to last for six months.9

Famed MS researcher Howard Weiner developed the nasal spray. It’s already undergone Phase 1 trials to prove safety and effectiveness. It’s hoped that this new approach will “revolutionize” treatment for SPMS, which lacks more and better therapies.9

The COVID-19 research connection

Foralumab works using an interaction between the gastrointestinal and nasal mucosal immune systems. This interaction modulates the immune system response and reduces inflammation both locally and systemically.10

Last November, Tiziana started clinical trials of foralumab — not as a treatment for MS, but as a way to treat rampant severe COVID-19 in Brazil.11 By February of this year, the research showed that foralumab suppressed the dangerous symptom of lung inflammation quickly and enhanced both senses of smell and taste in people receiving the treatment.12

Can you imagine treating your MS with a nasal spray? It seems like another miracle in the works for both those with SPMS and those struggling with COVID-19. More of this, please!

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