Scientists at Athena Neurosciences Inc. and collaboratorsreported today that they have blocked paralysis in an animalmodel of multiple sclerosis.

Using monoclonal antibodies, the researchers concluded thatthey have blocked the cell adhesion molecules in rats thatallow misdirected white cells to enter the brain. A similarmonoclonal, targeted to the same molecule in humans, will bedeveloped by Athena (NASDAQ:ATHN) as a therapeutic.

The test animals had been treated to create a model of MS,called experimental autoimmune encephalitis, in which whitecells mistakenly attack the myelin coating of nerve cells.Demyelination is a hallmark of MS and other inflammatorydiseases of the central nervous system (CNS).

Reporting today in Nature, the researchers showed thatantibodies to a surface molecule on leukocyte white blood cellsstopped the experimental disease. White cells stimulated byinflammation use the surface molecule, called alpha-4-beta-1integrin, to latch onto the blood vessels supplying the brain.

Of a score of antibodies tested against cell adhesion molecules,only the one directed against alpha-4-beta-1 integrinsignificantly affected binding of the cells to brain vessels frommice with the disease.

In living rats, "anti-alpha-4 integrin completely prevented thedevelopment of paralysis in 75 percent of the treated animals;in those that developed the disease, paralysis was delayed andits severity was reduced," reported the scientists at the SouthSan Francisco, Calif., company and collaborators at StanfordUniversity and the Universidad Autonoma of Madrid, Spain.

Therapy based on inhibiting the integrin "may prove effectivein treating inflammatory diseases of the CNS," the researchersconcluded.

The company has identified an antibody suitable fordevelopment. If Athena succeeds in humanizing themonoclonal, "we will take it to the clinic," said spokeswomanLisa Dodge. She estimated an investigational new drugapplication would be ready in 1993.

MS is the most common CNS disease in young adults, affecting250,000 Americans. Current treatments are aimed at relievingsymptoms, which can be transient or lead to paralysis. There isno available cure.

Athena shares closed Wednesday at $14.25, up 38 cents.

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

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