Collaborative Network Awards

The Collaborative Network Awards are multi-year grants that invest significant funding to fuel international networks of researchers and institutions that have worked together and demonstrated the potential to make crucial breakthroughs in understanding and treating progressive MS. They aim to accelerate progress in:

  • Drug discovery programs that identify and validate molecular and cellular targets and screen and characterize drug candidates, which may be either repurposed or first-in-human drugs;
  • The discovery, advancement and validation of new or existing biological or imaging biomarkers; and,
  • Proof-of-concept trials and trial designs, including, but not limited to trials in remyelination, neuroprotection, enhanced plasticity.

After a successful first round of Challenge Awards in 2014, the Alliance issued a call for applications for ‘planning grants’ in support of larger, longer-term Collaborative Network Awards. We received 52 applications from around the world, involving almost 500 investigators. Following an extensive peer and technical review, involving key academia and industry experts, 11 projects received a 12-month, €50,000 Collaborative Network Planning (please click here for a PDF of the Planning Award project summaries). The 11 projects that received planning grants then had the opportunity to apply for one of three 4-year, €4.2 million grants for the operation of a collaborative network.

In September 2016, during the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS), we announced the three projects that have been selected to receive a total investment of €12.6 million over three years. Below is a summary of each project, and you can download more detailed information here.

Awardee/Project 1:

Project Title: Identifying a biomarker of disability progression for use in clinical trials

Principal Investigator: Douglas Arnold, M.D., McGill University (Canada) in collaboration with 16 investigators from The Netherlands, U.K., U.S., and Switzerland.

Douglas Arnold, M.D. of McGill University is making remarkable headway in developing the next generation of tools for measuring disease progression in progressive MS. Dr. Arnold’s team is pioneering the development of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) markers that signal disease progression, and adapting these for use in early (phase 2) clinical trials of progressive MS treatments. Dr. Arnold’s research examines the underlying idea that brain injury-associated disease progression in MS is detectable by MRI prior to its identification by physicians in a clinic visit, likely due to the ability of the brain to compensate for injury, up to a point. The innovative tools being developed by Dr. Arnold and his team are essential for planning the larger scale phase 3 clinical trials required for approval of new treatments. The study also has extraordinary potential to inform proactive treatment for people with not-yet-evident progressive MS.

Awardee/Project 2:

Project Title: Bioinformatics and cell reprogramming to develop an in vitro platform to discover new drugs for progressive multiple sclerosis (BRAVEinMS)

Principal Investigator: Gianvito Martino, M.D., Division of Neuroscience, San Raffaele Hospital Milan (Italy) in collaboration with 13 Investigators from Italy, France, Germany, Europe, Canada and the U.S.

The BRAVEinMS team is working to identify molecules that may have a protective role in nerve cells or neurons and/or the capacity to promote myelin repair. They will focus their efforts in three phases:

  1. Identifying potential drugs or compounds using sophisticated bioinformatics tools specifically developed to virtually reproduce pathogenic mechanisms of MS
  2. Screening these compounds for their ability to protect nerve cells or promote myelin repair in laboratory tests using both rodent and human neurons and myelin forming cells
  3. Evaluating in animal models of progressive MS the therapeutic potential of the ‘candidate’ compounds identified through the in vitro screening

The research team believes that BRAVEinMS will pinpoint a limited number of previously unidentified molecules with a high chance of therapeutic power in progressive MS patients. They expect that within four years from the start of the project they will identity one or two human grade compounds that can be used in Phase I/II clinical trials in patients with progressive MS. As a result, the team aims to implement a clinical trial in the near future, by the end of 2020.

Awardee/Project 3:

Project Title: Development of a drug discovery pipeline for progressive MS

Principal Investigator: Francisco Quintana, Ph.D., Brigham and Women’s Hospital (U.S) in collaboration with 8 Investigators from the U.S., Canada, Israel and Sanofi Genzyme

The goal of Francisco Quintana, Ph.D.’s project is to identify drug candidates that may be effective therapies for progressive MS, and that will be ready for evaluation in patients within four years of the initiation of this research. The project’s central idea is that targeting the innate immune system in the central nervous system will uncover effective therapeutic approaches for progressive MS. The innate immune system normally functions to protect the body from infections. Dr. Quintana and others have found that innate immune cells in the central nervous system promote disease activity in MS and other diseases. Dr. Quintana’s team recently identified the biological pathways that control the innate immune response. They also found that genetic manipulation of the pathways can arrest nerve damage and alter disease progression in pre-clinical MS animal models; however no candidate drugs are available to modulate the activity of innate immune cells.

Dr. Quintana’s study will:

  1. Identify the biological processes that control the innate immune response in the central nervous system
  2. Evaluate the activity of candidate drugs on the innate immune system in experimental models of progressive MS
  3. Analyze how the candidate drugs exert their beneficial effect; and, iv. Identify additional candidate targets and therapeutic drugs that impact the innate immune system in progressive MS

Alan Thompson discusses the Collaborative Network Awards

Alan Thompson, Chair of the Alliance’s Scientific Steering Committee and Dean of University College London Faculty of Brain Sciences, talks about the three Collaborative Network Award projects and how these projects could impact on the lives of people with progressive MS.

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