REDWOOD CITY, Calif. -- A dozen multiple sclerosis (MS)patients at a medical center in New England are about toreceive a combination molecule aimed at the particular T cellsin their body that trigger their autoimmune disease.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued Patent No.5,130,297 to Anergen Inc. this week for an experimentaltreatment that involves injecting elements of the immunesystem -- natural and synthetic.

The company's stock has jumped 84 percent since Tuesday'spatent announcement, including a $3.88-a-share boost onWednesday to $11.75.

The patent covers antigenic peptides coupled to majorhistocompatibility complex (MHC) components, and recognizedby rogue T cells. According to the patent claims, "Thecomplexes are capable of binding a T cell receptor and inducinganergy in a T cell bearing the receptor. Anergy is a state onnon-responsiveness in which T cells do not respond tostimulation with additional antigen."

Besides MS, the patent includes rheumatoid arthritis. "Byimplication it covers 40 or more autoimmune diseases," SomeshD. Sharma, Anergen's vice president of research, told BioWorld.Among these maladies, caused by attacks on the body's ownimmune system, are myasthenia gravis (MG), a wasting disease,and insulin-dependent diabetes.

"MS is closely associated with a particular type of Class II MHC,occurring on the antigen-presenting cells," said Sharma. "Adifferent set for each autoimmune disease resides in the T cellreceptors. But a receptor will "see" its antigen/MHC complexonly if this peptide is held in the molecular pocket of an MHCcell."

Anergen's patent protects the proprietary process by which itsscientists isolate an MHC protein from cells similar to thepatient's antigen-presenting cells, and combine this withantigenic fragments recognized by the specific T cell receptor."We use this complex," Sharma told BioWorld, " to completelyparalyze -- anergize -- T cells involved in the pathogenesis ofautoimmune diseases."

Myelin basic protein is one of the antigens thought to beimportant in MS, Sharma said. Loss of myelin, which sheathsnerve cells, results in impaired transmission of nerve impulses,and eventual paralysis and death. In MG, the target isaceylcholine, a key neurotransmitter controlling muscle action.

"In mice, we can use our now-patented process to prevent,arrest or treat the murine equivalent of MS," Sharma said. "Ibelieve we can arrest it in humans."

-- David Leff Science Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.