Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory neurodegenerative disease of the central nervous system (CNS) for which no cure is currently available. It is the leading cause of non-traumatic disabling neurological disease in young adults with more than 500,000 people affected in Europe. Since MS strikes during the primary productive time of one's personal and professional life, it leads to a major physical and socio-economic burden to the patient, family and society. Therefore, new therapeutic interventions with improved efficacy over existing drugs and good tolerability are warranted. As chronic inflammatory processes drive the neurodegeneration, we hypothesize that improved clinical outcome depends on restoring the balance between inflammation and the remaining capacity of neuronal self-renewal. In this perspective, cell therapy that specifically targets the damaging immune reactions that cause MS and induce disease-specific tolerance without affecting protective immunity against pathogens and cancer is a promising approach.
Recently, we set-up a collaborative network of European centers working in cell therapy (COST Action BM1305). From this, centers from four different EU countries with two additional partners now aim to take the next step and join efforts to bring antigen-specific therapy for MS to the clinic. Our objectives are to evaluate safety, clinical practicality and demonstrate first proof-of-principle of therapeutic efficacy of antigen-specific tolerance-inducing dendritic cells (tolDC) in MS patients in two single-center clinical trials while comparing different modes of tolDC administration. Coordinated patient monitoring and centralized MRI monitoring, including radiological correlates of neurodegeneration, and immunomonitoring will enable us to directly compare results between trials and enable consented biobanking, data safeguarding and accessibility to support future efforts in the field of MS therapy.
Antigen-specific cell therapy has the potential to provide this chronic inflammatory disease with a personalized and effective treatment option and therefore fits within current program. An effective therapy that lowers morbidity by uniting efficacy with reduced occurrence of side effects and less frequent hospitalizations will enhance quality of life of patients as well as dramatically reduce economic burden. This would represent a breakthrough for healthcare in MS.