Bellinzona – A research team led by Ticino scientists has discovered why the multiple sclerosis drug natalizumab is less effective in some patients. Based on this information, an alternative version has now been engineered.

Natalizumab is a therapy already used to treat autoimmune diseases and cancer. It has proved particularly effective in the treatment of patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. However, around six percent of patients cannot benefit from this treatment because their immune system produces anti-drug antibodies that block natalizumab activity.

A research team has now discovered why this unwanted immune response occurs in some patients with multiple sclerosis. They have used this information to engineer a new version of the antibody that avoids this problem.

According to a press release from the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI), the group included expert researchers from French pharma group Sanofi, the Medical University of Innsbruck and Italy’s Mondino Foundation. The team was led by the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB), which is affiliated with the USI.

“The successful integration of the most advanced technologies allowed us to identify the Achilles’ heel of an effective antibody used to treat multiple sclerosis. This is a very powerful approach to guide the deimmunization strategies of next-generation antibodies,” commented IRB scientist Luca Piccol.

According to Antonio Lanzavecchia, director of IRB and co-author of the paper, this discovery is encouraging for the improvement of other therapeutic antibodies that are currently in use. Reciprocally, this approach could also be used to improve the immunogenicity of vaccines.

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