Accelerating new, life-changing treatments for people with progressive MS requires new insights and knowledge into the causes of progression. By determining what triggers MS progression, researchers will be better prepared to focus their efforts on developing breakthroughs to slow, stop, and ultimately, reverse disability.

To meet the challenge of not only understanding progression but identifying treatments to prevent and reverse progression, the Alliance has established a series of global research initiatives that work together to achieve necessary results.

International Drug Discovery Collaborative Research Networks

Two Alliance International Drug Discovery Collaborative Research Networks are unlocking the mystery of progression to identify breakthrough treatments. These are first-of-their-kind large-scale networks bringing together leading scientists from MS research institutions from multiple countries in order to drive innovation and expedite results. These networks represent an investment of over €8 million in research funding. 

  • One network is developing a drug discovery platform to identify compounds that can protect and repair the brain.
  • Another network is focused on preventing brain damage in MS through new understanding of how the innate immune process affects progression and identifying drug candidates.

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 reproduce pathogenic mechanisms of MS virtually.
  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 they will identify one or two human-grade compounds that can be used in Phase I/II clinical trials in patients with progressive MS within four years of the start of the project. As a result, the team aims to implement a clinical trial in the near future.

One of the hardest parts of an MS journey is the uncertainty – no one can show you a chart and say, “You are here, and in ten years you’ll be there"

Gary, Australia, living with progressive MS

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 the international drug discovery collaborative research network led by Professor Francisco Quintana 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.

This Collaborative Research Network 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. Analyse how the candidate drugs exert their beneficial effect; and,
  4. 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 the lives of people with progressive MS.

Professor Alan Thompson, MD discusses the impact of the research networks.

Research Challenge awards

Research Challenge Awards are short-term, €75,000 research grants that focus on identifying new understandings into the cause of progression and help identify new paths for treatment development. Innovation and multi-national collaboration are key elements of these grants.

  • 22 awards totaling 1.6 million in funding in 2014 led to the development of new frontiers in progressive MS research, findings helped lead to the development of two of the Collaborative Research Networks, other international research programs and the publication of 16 scientific journal publications.
  • In 2021, up to 20 new awards will be granted through €1.5 million in funding. These projects will target mechanisms underlying progressive MS. Emphasis will be placed on high-risk proposals that have the potential to result in a paradigm shift in progressive MS and lead to new focus areas for treatment development.