New MS Drug Targeting Epstein-Barr Virus Shows Promise

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic condition that affects the central nervous system (CNS). It is characterized by the immune system attacking myelin sheaths, which are fatty layers that surround nerve fibers and enable them to communicate. 

One recent study published early this year found that contracting the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a type of herpesvirus, increases a person’s risk of MS. Previous studies have also found EBV-infected B cells in patients with MS. 

In a recent study, researchers are investigating the effects of a drug that targets the EBV in people with MS. The study is an ongoing phase 1 clinical trial that will be presented at a conference by Atara in October of this year. 

The company behind the study is Atara Biotherapeutics, Inc., which is an allogeneic T-cell immunotherapy company, that began the study to evaluate the use of the drug ATA118 which targets EBV-infected cells in people with MS. 

Interruption of Autoimmune Cascade 

The study included a total of 24 volunteers, of which 20 showed signs of improvement or a halt in progression after 1 year of treatment. Of 18 patients who agreed to take the medication for up to 39 months, 9 achieved sustained disability improvement, and 7 showed signs of remyelination. No major side effects have been reported during the trial. 

The team also noticed that higher doses led to larger clinical responses. According to Alex Chapman, vice president of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs at Atara, the medication might affect two pathways in the brain. The first is that it can interrupt the cell-mediated autoimmune cascade driven by EBV-infected B cells, and reduce the production of myelin-targeted antibodies. 

The team already began recruiting patients for a randomized, phase 2 placebo-controlled trial. 


Annie Lennon. (2022, Apr 22). Multiple sclerosis (MS): Drug targeting Epstein-Barr virus shows promise. Medical News Today. Retrieved from:

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