Clinical tests of a component of nerve cells show that it canenhance recovery from spinal cord injury. The compound, aganglioside called GM-1 marketed by Fidia S.p.A., may also helppeople suffering strokes and other central nervous systeminjuries.

GM-1 showed a significant ability to spur rehabilitation ofpatients treated at the Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore,according to the placebo-controlled, double-blind studypublished today in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Half of the 37 patients participating in the study received GM-1 and appeared to recover relatively more function than thepatients given placebo. Unfortunately, the group given GM-1 bychance started out with more serious defects on one of thetwo neurologic assessments used, so that both groups ended upfunctionally equivalent on that test by the end of the studyyear.

Despite this bad luck, an accompanying editorial points out,the trial with GM-1 is only the second randomized prospectivedrug study to show hope for treating spinal cord injury. Thisreport and the study of methylprednisone a year ago suggestthat drugs may indeed be able to aid neurologic recovery, andthat GM-1 and methylprednisone could possibly give additiveeffects. A study of combined therapy is planned, according tothe editorial.

Prior studies in animals suggest that GM-1, a complex sugar-lipid of the nerve cell membrane, can stimulate the growth ofnerve cells and help regenerate damaged nerve tissues. Inclinical trials the ganglioside shows promise for treatingstroke; in animal trials it also appears useful for diabeticneuropathy.

Fidia, a drug company based in Italy, markets GM-1 in Europe.Its U.S. subsidiary, Fidia Pharmaceutical Corp. of Washington,D.C., provided funding for the study. Competitors that aredeveloping various neuroprotective agents include Ciba-GeigyLtd., Hoffmann-La Roche and Merck & Co., as well as biotechcompanies such as Cortex Pharmaceuticals Inc., Neurex andCambridge NeuroScience Research Inc.

INTERLEUKIN-6 FROM TUMOR

Japanese researchers report finding interleukin-6 in apatient's kidney tumor. As detailed in a letter published todayin the New England Journal of Medicine, their findings add toevidence that this immune system messenger supports cancergrowth.

The patient, a 67-year-old woman, had both multiple myelomaand renal carcinoma. After chemotherapy and removal of thekidney tumor, the patient's blood levels of interleukin-6 fell.Cells from the kidney tumor, grown in the lab, continued tosecrete the immune messenger. The myeloma cells, alsocultured, were stimulated to grow when the HiroshimaUniversity researchers added recombinant interleukin-6 totheir culture. -- RF

-- Roberta Friedman Special to BioWorld

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