Clinical trial finds new immunotherapy improves MS symptoms

A world-first clinical trial of a new cellular immunotherapy for multiple sclerosis (MS) has found that it improved symptoms and quality of life for the majority of patients.


The treatment targets the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It is based on the theory of Professor Michael Pender, from The University of Queensland and the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH), that MS is caused by an accumulation of EBV-infected cells in the brain and that a therapy targeting EBV can potentially stop the progression of MS.


Professor Michael Pender said a total of 10 patients – five with secondary progressive MS and five with primary progressive MS – received four doses of the cellular immunotherapy treatment at the RBWH.


“Seven of these patients showed improvements. Without this treatment, we would have expected their symptoms to continue to get worse,” Professor Pender said.


“Improvements ranged from reduced fatigue and improved productivity and quality of life to improvements in vision and mobility. Importantly, we found the treatment was safe and without serious side effects.


“Our findings add to the mounting evidence that EBV infection plays a role in the development of MS.”


The phase I clinical trial started in November 2015. A phase II trial sponsored by Atara Biotherapeutics is planned for several locations in Australia and the United States.


Multiple Sclerosis, which is a condition of the central nervous system, is estimated to affect more than 25 000 Australians. It can cause a range of symptoms including problems with coordination, balance, weakness, arm and leg functioning, cognitive problems and memory loss.


The cellular immunotherapy works by taking blood from patients, extracting their T (immune) cells, and “training” them in the laboratory to recognise and destroy the EBV present in the brain lesions of MS patients.


The Chair of the MS Queensland board, Roger Burrell, said, "We are excited for what the future holds for our MS community and look forward to the phase II study.”


The cellular immunotherapies were manufactured at QIMR Berghofer’s Q-Gen Cell Therapeutics, one of the largest cell therapy manufacturing facilities in Australia.


The results of the clinical trial have been published in JCI Insight.


The new cellular immunotherapy was developed by Professor Rajiv Khanna and his team at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute. The phase I clinical trial was conducted in collaboration with Professor Michael Pender and his colleagues. The trial was funded by MS Queensland, MS Research Australia, Perpetual Trustee Company Ltd and donations from private individuals.


20 November 2018.