Anergen Inc. released data on Wednesday that showed successof its selective T cell therapy in an animal model of the muscledisease myasthenia gravis.

At the Keystone Symposium on Molecular and Cellular Biologyin Taos, N.M., company scientists described their injection ofrats with the receptor for the nerve messenger acetylcholine, amanipulation that created a syndrome of muscle weaknesssimilar to myasthenia gravis.

The injected rats subsequently responded to treatment withthe company's compound, which links a peptide of the receptorto major histocompatibility complex, the immune signalingprotein that usually primes T cells to action.

The MHC-peptide combinations serve to keep T cells quiet, andprevent the over-active immune reactions that promptautoimmune diseases.

Seventy-six percent of the rats treated with MHC-acetylcholinereceptor peptide survived at a time when only 20 percent hadsurvived without treatment. The treated animals also showedless severe loss of motor control.

Myasthenia gravis is thought to result from a misdirectedimmune attack on the acetylcholine receptor, yet the portion ofthe receptor that prompts the attack is unknown. Anergenresearchers were pleased that their choice indeed worked whenthe receptor "presents all sorts of possible antigens," said JohnFara, president and chief executive.

The Redwood City, Calif., company (NASDAQ:ANRG) in Decemberpublished data showing the efficacy of a similar strategy in ananimal model of multiple sclerosis. In MS misdirected T cellsare believed to attack the myelin coating of nerve cells,resulting in paralysis.

The company showed that mice treated with anothercompound, using a myelin peptide, displayed less paralysis in amodel of the chronic, progressive form of MS. Mice inducedwith a disease resembling the remitting form of MS, and givenanother Anergen compound, failed to develop paralysis at all.

An investigator-sponsored pilot trial at the University ofVermont is in progress in MS patients. Clinical trials formyasthenia gravis are also starting in Britain, Fara said.Human MHC will be used in the trials.

The company is also researching a treatment for rheumatoidarthritis.

Anergen shares gained 50 cents to $11.75.

-- Roberta Friedman, Ph.D. Special to BioWorld

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