Promising new MS drug may actually worsen the disease, researchers say

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — TEPP-46, a new small-molecule drug intended to treat multiple sclerosis, has been considered a promising medicinal option for the disease. A new study giving researchers pause however, after finding TEPP-46 may in actuality make MS worse.

The drug hasn’t been tested on humans yet, and a team at the University of Virginia says scientists should begin human trials with extreme caution. This research, performed using mouse models, resulted in worse disease health outcomes. Making matters worse, additional unexpected side effects were also noted while using TEPP-46.

“It was not at all what we expected,” says MS researcher Alban Gaultier, PhD, of UVA’s Department of Neuroscience and its Center for Brain Immunology and Glia (BIG), in a university release. “The take-home message is that we should be very careful and do more fundamental research before we propose to take this to clinical trials.”

How does multiple sclerosis damage the body?

It’s estimated that about one million Americans deal with MS, an awful autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack its own myelin. Myelin protects nerve fibers, so MS subsequently stops nerves from sending signals to the brain. Common MS symptoms include numbness, pain, muscle spasms, and fatigue.

Current MS drugs leave a lot to be desired and often leave the body unable to fight off infections. TEPP-46 had picked up steam as of late as a new treatment option. Originally developed as a cancer drug, TEPP-46 influences the way in which cells generate energy. That process, known as “metabolic adaptation” plays a big role in both cancer and MS.

This study’s analysis however, suggests that TEPP-46 is quite detrimental to the health of MS patients. The drug appears to redirect inflammation from the spinal cord to the brain, inducing harmful changes in T-cells. Researchers are unsure at this point why TEPP-46 has this effect, but say it’s clear that these changes aren’t helpful.

These findings dispute prior projects that had concluded TEPP-46 can help MS patients. So, study authors say more research is definitely warranted.

At the very least, the UVA team believes TEPP-46 can be used to create more advanced mouse models for MS.

“It’s something that could be very useful,” Gaultier concludes. “In this animal model of MS, most of the inflammation takes places in the spinal cord. So by using that drug and reprogramming the immune cells, we were able to move the pathology from the spinal cord to the brain, which better mimics human disease.”

The study is published in Science Signaling.

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