Next Steps for ATA188, Research Related to EBV and Multiple Sclerosis: AJ Joshi, MD

The chief medical officer at Atara Biotherapeutics provided insight on the future direction of its investigational agent ATA188 following new data that suggested a link between Epstein-Barr virus and multiple sclerosis. [WATCH TIME: 4 minutes]

WATCH TIME: 4 minutes

"There’s nothing new about the concept. It’s the evidence now that this is causative. I would expect a lot of additional research to start to come up. What are the mechanisms of disability progression? We see it happening—why don’t other therapies work to prevent progression? Why can we only slow it down, as opposed to reversing it?"

Weeks after a paper published in Science identified Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) as the leading cause of multiple sclerosis (MS), a new landmark study extended these findings by providing insight on the mechanistic link between the two.1-3 While genetic and environmental factors play a role, it has been postulated that EBV triggers a patient’s immune cells to erroneously attack myelin. Industry leaders, such as Atara Biotherapeutics, have already turned their attention to targeting EBV antigens. Its investigational agent, ATA188, has shown promising early results as a potential treatment for progressive MS, a form that has been challenging to treat, with few options available.

Atara lauded the second high impact study, claiming that these findings validate molecular mimicry as one of the leading mechanisms of EBV-mediated MS, which occurs when fragments of the virus share sequence of structural similarities with certain brain proteins. AJ Joshi, MD, chief medical officer, Atara, believes there are other potential outlets for ATA188, mainly in other relapsing forms of the disease.

NeurologyLive® sat down with Joshi to discuss the future of EBV and MS-related research, including the role of ATA188, going forward. He provided insight on how the community can build upon what’s been recently documented and the questions that still need to be answered.

1. Bjornevik K, Cortese M, Healy BC, et al. Longitudinal analysis reveals high prevalence of Epstein-Barr virus associated with multiple sclerosis. Science. Published online January 13, 2022. doi:10.1126/science.abj8222
2. Lanz TV, Brewer RC, Robinson WH, et al. Clonally expanded B cells in multiple sclerosis bind EBV EBNA1 and GlialCAM
3. New landmark study provides long-sought mechanistic link between EBV and multiple sclerosis, extending findings from recent paper in Science that identified EBV as the leading cause of multiple sclerosis. News release. January 24, 2022. Accessed February 15, 2022.
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