Published May 9, 2022
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological autoimmune disease affecting 2.5 million people worldwide. The neurodegenerative disease causes progressive damage to neural cells and results in significant physical and cognitive disabilities. The team behind Wellington UniVentures’ spin out company, Rekover Therapeutics, have shown that the drug nalfurafine has the potential to not only repair cell damage, but restore lost functions to those who have MS and are ready to take the drug to a clinical trial.
MS causes lesions in the nervous system resulting from destruction of the myelin sheath, or nerve coverings, in the brain and spinal cord. The lesions slow down or block messages from the brain which affects movement and causes symptoms such as loss of vision, speech, memory, sensation, and bodily functions.
Professor Anne La Flamme and Associate Professor Bronwyn Kivell as well as Professor Thomas Prisinzano at the University of Kentucky are conducting crucial research into much needed therapies for people with MS.
Currently, disease-modifying therapies only slow the rate of accumulating disability during MS, and none can reverse the disability. However, this research has led to the discovery of a set of compounds that could potentially restore the myelin sheath—and consequently restore function in people living with MS.
Professor Anne La Flamme explains: “Targeting the remyelination process has become a key area of interest in developing novel MS therapies. Nalfurafine is a drug that has been previously used during kidney disease treatment. What we’ve found is that by repurposing nalfurafine to drive remyelination and repair in MS, we can improve functional outcomes after periods of demyelination. This is a significant step to treat those suffering from MS both in New Zealand and globally.
In 2020, Wellington UniVentures helped the researchers to establish spin-out company Rekover Therapeutics to take the project to the next stage of clinical development.
Having completed further research and enlisting the help of Bronwen Connor, Professor of Pharmacology and head of the Neutral Reprogramming and Repair Lab at the Centre for Brain Research at the University of Auckland, the Rekover Therapeutics drug is now ready for clinical trial.
“There is currently no cure for MS, but the Rekover team have been working hard to quickly see results,” says Anne Barnett, Wellington UniVentures’ CEO. “By re-purposing existing compounds, the team are potentially shortening the commercialisation process and providing a quicker path for improving outcomes for those with MS. We have protected a method of using the compound to treat MS so that Rekover can now focus on establishing a clinical trial.”