Finding a cure for MS is considered the Holy Grail of medicine. That search took a step closer thanks to exciting developments reported from Hadassah Hospital earlier this month.

Hadassah Hospital has long been a trailblazer in the development of exciting solutions to intractable medical problems. Two immediately come to mind: re-growing bones using stem cells and robotic surgery.

Now there is a new achievement to add to a long list. This one – a way to effectively ‘freeze’ the progression of Multiple sclerosis (MS) – could be the first significant step towards the Holy Grail.

Finding a cure for this progressive neurological disease could portend an answer for other similarly degenerative, autoimmune diseases. Think Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Spinal muscular atrophy and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig disease or motor neuron disease (MND).

News out of Hadassah has been overshadowed by the rush to find a vaccine against COVID-19.

Make no mistake, when COVID-19 has been brought to bay, the pathway to end the scourge of MS and related diseases will earn its status as a triumph in medico-scientific history. The man credited with this advance is Professor Dimitrios Karussis, director of the MS Center and the department of Neuroimmunology, Cell Therapies at Hadassah.

Prof Karussis and his team developed an innovative stem cell treatment that will impact a disease that affects close to 2.5 million people worldwide.

The Hadassah team partnered with NeuroGenesis, which received a license from Hadassah’s technology transfer company, Hadasit, to assist in the process of commercialising the technology.

This has led to significant clinical improvements in patients with progressive MS, based on the results of a Phase II clinical trial. While the trial involved 48 patients over three years, some 140 patients have received the treatment, during a Phase 1 trial and through compassionate use at Hadassah.

Importantly, there have been no serious, treatment-related side effects.

The results of the placebo-controlled, randomized double-blind trial found that treatment not only halted progression of the disease but led to improvement in neurological ability. These were published in Oxford University’s peer-reviewed journal Brain.

Hadassah Australia has been a long-term supporter of Prof Karussis and his research into this insidious disease. In March, 2018 we hosted eminent British lawyer and Hadassah advocate, Mark Lewis, who was part of a trial at Hadassah run by Prof Karussis. His remarkable story was revealed in a 2017 BBC documentary. Mark was the keynote speaker at our STEM Neurological Disease campaign, set up to raise funds for MS research at the hospital.

According to Prof Karussis, while there are several good treatment options for relapsing remitting MS, we fall short in providing effective treatment for progressive MS that could substantially suppress the progression of disability.

This trial provides encouraging results and suggests the potential for a new approach that may not only slow down the progression of the disease but even induce improvement and promote repair mechanisms in progressive MS.

While we should always be cautious interpreting positive effects from medium-size studies, large-scale trials are needed to confirm these findings.

On the other hand, when we see such actual neurological improvements in patients with active and progressive disease, we cannot be restrained from being enthusiastic. These are certainly very strong findings.

Hadassah and NeuroGenesis have also conducted early-stage trials using the treatment in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) with promising results.

After meeting with the US Food and Drug Administration and sharing data from their first trials, Hadassah and NeuroGenesis intend to launch a multicentre Phase III trial in the US, Europe and Israel, and then start the application process for approval. Read the article Rejection is Not an Option.

Hadassah Australia has indicated its intention to push for Australia to become a local trial site as well.

We are excited by this research and its potential impact on humanity. Rest assured we will continue to monitor its progress and report back to you.

On behalf of the Hadassah family, I’d like to wish you and your loved ones a happy, safe and light-filled Chanukah.

Ron Finkel AM
Hadassah Australia