- Approximately 2.3 million people across the world suffer from Multiple Sclerosis
- Scientists at BioNTech have developed a vaccine that can delay the onset of the disease and reduce disease severity.
- According to a study published in the journal Science, the vaccine has shown success in a mouse model.
The end of 2020 saw two mRNA-based vaccines receive approval for the fight against COVID-19; one of which was developed by BioNTech in collaboration with Pfizer. Despite its unconventionality, the vaccine technology has gained support as a promising alternative to traditional vaccines. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that BioNTech’s new multiple sclerosis vaccine is also based on mRNA technology.
In 2015, The National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimated that about 2.3 million people across the globe suffered from Multiple Sclerosis (MS). MS is the immune-mediated destruction of the myelin sheath covering the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. Thus, resulting in a disruption in the transfer of messages within the Central Nervous System (CNS). Signs and symptoms are usually specific to the nerve damaged. However, weakness in limbs, tremors, blurred vision and slurred speech are most common.
mRNA-Based Multiple Sclerosis Vaccine
There is no cure for multiple sclerosis. Current treatments help prevent new attacks and alleviate symptoms. However, these treatments work by suppressing the immune system which results in an immunocompromised state.
Normally the T-cells identify myelin, the protein covering neurons, as foreign and start attacking it. Thus, resulting in the destruction of neurons. Therefore, the team at BioNTech has developed an mRNA vaccine that helps the immune cells tolerate the myelin instead of destroying it.
The team of researchers modified the mRNA to encode MS-related autoantigens. Thet then presented these antigens to a regulatory form of T cells, called Tregs. Tregs generally suppress immune responses. Thus, by presenting myelin-associated proteins the researchers aimed to prevent the T cells from attacking the neurons.
Vaccine Shows Success in Mouse Models
Researchers tested their vaccine in mouse models. Using tiny nanoparticles, the team delivered the vaccine to the antigen-presenting cells in mice suffering from MS. The vaccine not only improved symptoms but also prevented disease progression in the mice. Furthermore, it did not lead to immunosuppression, a common side effect of current MS treatments.
The study further adds to the effectiveness of mRNA vaccine technology. Moreover, its cost-effectiveness and ability to be designed quickly makes it a likely candidate for future vaccines.
Krienke C, Kolb L, Diken E, et al. A noninflammatory mRNA vaccine for treatment of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis. Science. 2021;371(6525):145-153. doi:10.1126/science.aay3638