Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating disease that affects nearly 1 million people across the country. It can also be unpredictable — some people present with mild symptoms, while others experience major effects on their central nervous system. Research on therapies for this disease is critical, which is why a spinoff company from the Cleveland Clinic, Cashel Neural, is hard at work developing a novel approach to the way MS is treated.
“The most predictable thing about MS is its unpredictability,” said Dr. Bruce Trapp, founder of Cashel Neural and chair of the department of neuroscience at Lerner Research Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. “The disease starts with neurological episodes, which are usually temporary, and most patients then transform into a progressive MS stage, where relapses stop or reduce, yet disability progression remains continuous and unchanged.”
Most FDA-approved therapies for MS target the immune system to stop it from attacking myelin, an insulating layer around the nerves, and causing inflammation, but no treatments exist to repair the myelin. That’s the goal of Cashel Neural, to lead the charge in therapeutics that focus on remyelination.
“The goal is to get a remyelinating therapy in the clinic that’s gone through clinical trials and is approved by the FDA,” Trapp said. “That will dramatically improve the quality of life for the MS patient. Current therapies do a good job at slowing the progression of the disease but don’t stop disability progression, which is what we’re trying to do. Remyelination is one of the best neuroprotective therapies an MS patient can have.”
Cashel Neural’s innovative work has received funding from several sources at the national and state level. Trapp said support from the National Institute of Health’s Small Business Innovation Research Fund, Ohio Third Frontier, the Cleveland Clinic, and the National MS Society, among others, has been crucial, and now the company is ready for venture capital funding to take its research to the next level.
“We’re pushing all the right buttons and have all the right people in place,” he said. “Our research is heading towards the stage where we’re ready for VC backing to help us get into the clinic. As we bring the data in, we’re getting more and more optimistic, and we’re looking for a partner to help us build capital in the next phase, which is developing the drug itself.”
MS affects scores of people across the country and many people in Ohio, a driving factor for the collaboration and common purpose uniting the medical community across the state’s network of major hospitals and research institutions. And through its research and development on novel therapies, the company is pushing the needle forward on improving the lives of MS patients overall.
“We have outstanding research centers and medical centers for MS all throughout the state, and many of the major universities here have great MS programs,” Trapp said. “When we have clinical trials, there are networks of interactions between the different hospitals, and the clinicians are connected and understand each other because they’re working towards the same goal. It’s a great atmosphere for doing impactful research for MS.”