MS Australia has partnered with Australian research teams in five successful bids for government funding for research into the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) in MS, totalling almost $10 million.
The funding announced yesterday from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), will support two Australian clinical trials of antiviral medications to treat multiple sclerosis (MS) fatigue and progression, as well as three large-scale studies to understand how EBV interacts with the human immune system to increase the risk of developing MS.
EBV infection is almost universal in people with MS, compared to around 90 per cent of the general population. It appears to be ‘essential, but on its own not sufficient’ to cause MS. A very large study of over 10 million military personnel published last year, showed that EBV increased the risk of MS by 32-fold, providing the strongest evidence yet that EBV may cause MS.
“To translate this research into better outcomes for people with MS, we need a better understanding of how EBV interacts with the immune system to increase MS risk, and possibly, to drive the disease process.
“We are delighted to partner with outstanding Australian researchers in this critical work,” Mr Rohan Greenland, CEO of MS Australia said.
Associate Professor Des Graham, the Chair of MS Australia and a person living with MS said, “This funding is a significant and exciting investment into research that may well lead to innovative approaches for early intervention, better treatments and prevention of MS.”
Another essential piece of research is fast-tracking answers to whether we can treat EBV in the clinic to improve MS outcomes.
“We have worked very closely with Australian neurologists, immunologists, virologists, international EBV experts and people with MS to design two clinical trials of antiviral agents in MS.
“These antiviral medications are already TGA-approved for the treatment of other conditions, so if the trials prove successful, they have the potential to be approved quickly for MS treatment in Australia,” Dr Julia Morahan, Head of Research at MS Australia said.
MS Australia congratulates the successful funding recipients, including Professor Simon Broadley of Griffith University and Associate Professor Todd Hardy of the University of Sydney, who will lead the clinical trials of antiviral medications for disease progression and fatigue in MS, respectively.
Professor Anne-Louise Ponsonby of the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Professor Tri Phan of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, and Dr Yuan Zhou of the Menzies Institute of Medical Research will each lead fundamental research to understand different aspects of EBV’s interaction with the immune system at the genetic, molecular and cellular levels to increase MS risk.
Dr Julia Morahan says part of this research will take advantage of large collections of biological samples and clinical information collected over many years within MS Australia’s National Collaborative Research Platforms.
“MS Australia is, and has been, very active in raising awareness with the federal government of the urgent unmet needs in MS, and the research desperately needed to address these needs. These grants are welcomed by MS Australia, but we will continue to pursue further research funding until a cure is found,” said Associate Professor Des Graham.
“We are delighted to see this targeted support for MS research by the MRFF as part of their Clinical Trials Activity, and Emerging Priorities and Consumer Driven Research Initiatives,” Dr Morahan said.