Athersys stem cell therapy displays power as MS treatment

Athersys said its adult stem therapy for multiple sclerosis has produced lasting neurological improvements in recent animal studies and stopped the disease from progressing. 

The Cleveland, OH-based biotech touted the preclinical results at the Second Midwest Conference on Stem Cell Biology & Therapy at Oakland University in Rochester, MI. Athersys researchers teamed with colleagues at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Fast Forward subsidiary.

The results are promising for a drug that Athersys is testing for maximum benefit. The company continues to partner with Pfizer ($PFE) to develop MultiStem to treat inflammatory bowel disease. It is also teaming with RTI Biologics to use MultiStem with a bone allograft product for orthopedic indication.

For the tests, researchers injected the MultiStem treatment or placebo into rodents after they showed early onset of MS symptoms. Rodents with the treatment showed improvement in their neurological functional testing versus placebo and the demyelinated lesions in the treated animals also decreased. Additionally, MultiStem appeared to boost axonal remylination in animals tested with the cells.

There will be some time before this treatment reaches human MS patients for testing and there are no guarantees that it will behave the same way in people. But the treatment need here is significant. Athersys notes that at least 400,000 people in the U.S. alone have MS, out of 2.1 million people globally. Believed to be an autoimmune disorder, MS affects the central nervous symptom and the symptoms can range from limb numbness to blindness or paralysis, the company notes.

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