German Biotech Company Behind the Pfizer Covid-19 Jab Develops a Potential Vaccine for MS
The new MS vaccine works in a similar way to the coronavirus vaccine, manufactured in conjunction with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.
A piece of genetic material known as mRNA is inserted into a person's arm and forces the body's own cells to produce a protein that confers immunity.
In the case of the coronavirus vaccine, this protein mimics the virus's protruding spike, kickstarting the immune system to start making antibodies.
If a person later contracts the coronavirus, the immune system rapidly creates antibodies again and fights the infection before it can take hold or spread.
In the case of the MS vaccine, the mRNA technology stops the body's own immune system from attacking neurons in the brain and spinal cord which prevents the eventual loss of bodily function.
Clinical trials on mice revealed the jab cured the condition, stopped disease progression and restored some motor skills which had already been lost.
The BioNtech coronavirus jab is 95 per cent effective and was the first mRNA vaccine to ever receive approval for human use outside of clinical trials.
It was approved by the MHRA on December 2, given to the first UK patient on December 8 and is now being administered to thousands every day.
Its approval has been hailed as a watershed moment in immunology and experts are hopeful the technology can eradicate more diseases.
mRNA is genetic material which is naturally found in the human body.
It is used by human cells to carry messages and give instructions. DNA's double-helix is split in half, there is a molecular substitution, and it is then sent out of the nucleus and into the cellular cytoplasm to relay the message.
Another part of the cell then reads its genetic sequence — the message — and goes about doing as it is told, which often means making a specific protein.
After providing the blueprint, the mRNA molecule is then destroyed by another part of the cell.
This technology has been in development for decades but has only now reached a point where it is viable for use as a vaccine.
US-firm Moderna also made a mRNA vaccine for coronavirus, which last week received MHRA approval.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca jab does not use mRNA and instead uses a technique which has been around for decades, is cheaper to produce, and easier to transport. It received MHRA approval for emergency use in the UK in December.
Dr Ugur Sahin, CEO of BioNTech, applied mRNA technology to multiple sclerosis.
The disease is a result of the body's own immune system attacking a protective layer that surrounds neurons, called the myelin sheath, in the brain and spinal cord.
The fatty substance allows for electric pulses to be passed through the cells and without it messages from the brain fail to reach the muscles they are sent to.
As a result of this interruption the patient progressively loses more function of their own body before the condition eventually stops them from being able to breathe.
Current treatments work by dampening the person's immune system to delay and halt the degradation of the myelin sheath, but this leaves the person vulnerable to infections as they are unable to fight off any viruses or bacteria.
Dr Sahin's theory was that a vaccine could introduce genetic information which instructed the immune system of MS sufferers to not attack the proteins that lead to myelin sheath deterioration.
The genetic material is fragile and must be protected inside a durable case, made of lipids, during injection to ensure it reaches cells before it breaks down. The Covid-19 vaccine also has this protective casing.
Dr Sahin's team gave the vaccine as an injection to mice that had autoimmune encephalomyelitis, an animal equivalent for human MS.
'The vaccine blocked all clinical signs of MS in mice, while control animals experienced the typical symptoms of the disease,' BioNTech said in a statement.
Some mice already had symptoms of MS before they received the vaccine, for example paralysis of the tail, and in these specimens the vaccine not only prevented further disease progression but also reversed paralysis, restoring motor functions.
The full findings have been published in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Science.