Biogen Discovers Myelin-Production Protein


Feb 25, 2007

Biogen, currently known for its MS treatments Avonex and the beleaguered Tysabri, has announced a pipeline discovery that enables myelin production.

Let's do a quick review: Myelin is the fatty substance that surrounds and protects the brain's axons, which are the parts of neurons that transmit signals to other neurons. Multiple sclerosis, in large part, involves the destruction of that myelin, thereby disrupting the nerve signals along the now-exposed axons and causing the variety of symptoms that make MS the unpredictable wonder that it is. The cells that make myelin-- called oligodendrocytes-- are present in MS'ers but for some reason they usually cannot sufficiently restore the myelin after an attack.

Now then, Biogen has uncovered a molecule (which they call LINGO-1) that seems to control the myelin production of the oligodendrocytes. It seems that LINGO-1 acts to block myelin production when it is present, and by blocking LINGO-1 itself, the oligodendrocytes begin to make myelin in large amounts AND correctly place it around the damaged nerves. Certainly, the implications of this are revolutionary-- MS treatments that repair damage, not just slow it down.

However, like much of the early research we talk about here, this achievement-- while certainly great-- has only been done in a lab. Animal and human trials are a long ways ahead. Nevertheless, Biogen is a large company with the means and experience to bring such a therapy to market. If LINGO-1 does not turn out to be the answer, the information gleaned from research should yield other clues which can then be acted upon. It is a curiosity of ours as to how this information can be used by a more aggressive organization such as the Myelin Repair Foundation ( dedicated to bringing about myelin repair therapeutics in the next five years.

In any case, our greatest lesson here is that MS therapeutics are slowly but surely turning away from modulating the immune response to the tune of a ~30% benefit to actually repairing the damage caused by the system. MS is a multi-modal issue, and it will require a combination of prevention, damage control and repair strategies to eventually eradicate it from our lives and minds.

Michael Gilman, Ph.D., Biogen Idec's Executive Vice President, Research: "Although it is still uncertain whether we can transform these observations into a therapy, our research team has provided the first indications of a new pathway that may enable us to repair the nerve damage found in patients afflicted by MS and other serious demyelinating diseases."