BioNTech, the German biotechnology company that paired with Pfizer to develop the first COVID-19 vaccine approved in the U.S., reports in the journal Science that a new vaccine using the same mRNA technique has proved effective in treating or stopping multiple sclerosis in lab mice. MS is caused not by a virus but by the immune system malfunctioning and attacking the protective covering of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, disrupting signals between those cells and their targets in the body, causing neurological, sensory, and motor issues.
BioNTech said it successfully encoded MS-specific autoantigens that, when delivered via its experimental vaccine, stopped MS symptoms in mice bred with a condition mirroring MS in humans, and prevented further deterioration in mice with early signs of MS. Mice given a placebo showed typical MS symptoms.
Existing MS treatments "work by systemically suppressing the immune system," Angus Liu writes in Fierce Biotech. "That can control MS, but it also leaves patients vulnerable to infections." BioNTech's vaccine did not compromise normal immune function. The researchers said their findings suggest that mRNA vaccines, which can be developed quickly, could soon be used to treat "disease-causing antigens of individual patients."