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Encouraging Results in Early Safety Trial of DNA Vaccine for MS

timv's picture

Reports this week from the BBC, the Washington Post, and the Telegraph, among others tell of a promising result in an early trial of BHT-3009. The small-scale trial on 30 MS patients at the Montreal Neurological Institute was primarily meant to check for major side-effects from the vaccine before more widespread testing begins, according to a report published in the journal Archives of Neurology.

The Post reports:

The vaccine, called BHT-3009, works by preventing the immune system from attacking the myelin sheaths that protect nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The destruction of myelin eventually destroys a nerve cell's axon, which prevents cells from transmitting messages and is one of the hallmarks of MS.

"This was an early trial of a new class of drugs for autoimmune disease in general and for MS in particular," said lead researcher Dr. Amit Bar-Or, of McGill University's Montreal Neurological Institute.

The idea of the vaccine is to change the immune cells that target the nervous system, Bar-Or said. "What we want to do is focus on just those cells that are involved in the disease process," he said. "So antigen-specific therapies are designed to try to modify or eliminate only those bad-guy cells that are involved in the disease process."

From the BBC story:

The scientists also checked to see if there was any evidence in the tiny number of patients who received the vaccine that it was having an effect on their disease.

They found some differences in MRI scans of the brains of vaccine patients, and blood tests revealed a lower number of immune system cells targeting the proteins in the nerve fibre sheath.

However, the trial was too small and too short to show whether, in the longer term, this might translate to a slowing of the illness or a reduction of symptoms.

The researchers wrote: "We have demonstrated in this first, to our knowledge, in-human trial of a DNA vaccine for auto-immune disease that the approach is safe and well tolerated."

Professor Christopher Linington, who researches the immunobiology of MS at the University of Aberdeen, said that the research was "exciting", and that to detect any evidence of benefits in such a small trial would have been "miraculous".

The Telegraph has more details on the early but promising results:

MRI scans were carried out to evaluate the vaccine's safety and its effect on the immune system. A type of white blood cell known to target myelin in MS sufferers appeared to be reduced in the blood and spinal fluid of those who had the vaccine.

Dr Bar-Or, writing in the journal Archives of Neurology, said: "BHT-3009 was safe and well tolerated, provided favourable trends on brain MRI and produced beneficial immune changes."

The vaccine - the first that appears to slow the progress of MS - works by inserting DNA into the body to provoke an immune system reaction. A larger trial of the vaccine in 290 patients has begun.


roadskater's picture

Exciting to See So Much MS Research

Thanks, timv, for finding and synthesizing these articles. I'm not so sure I understand it all, but this sounds like a glimmer of hope for a new way of reducing the damage caused by multiple sclerosis. It is hard to fathom what it would be like to live with the recurring cycle of good days and bad ones (although I have what I call good days and bad ones, I'm sure it is nothing at all like what people face with MS). I want to learn more. I have a neighbor a couple of doors down who has had MS for several years and seems to be doing well. And of course, one of our team members lost a sibling to the disease (not sure if that has been said publicly so I'll keep private any identifiers).

Thanks again. Did you find this news in the left sidebar by chance? RSN offers regular news updates on multiple sclerosis in the lower left sidebar, or by going to...



timv's picture

Very Quick Summary of MS Research News

Actually I think I just happened to see that story in the headlines on Google News a couple of days ago, Blake. It caught my eye as I was just scanning the latest news.


As for "synthesizing" goes, all I did was post a two-sentence summary and then three long blockquotes. I wanted to get the links and a bare-bones version of the story up. It's easy to make this kind of thing harder than it needs to be, and--this time anyway--I made a conscious effort to not do that.


And yes very much to "hard to fathom." I whine and moan about having to put on reading glasses. I can't imagine what it would be like having to face a genuine physical challenge every single day.

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