The Medical Research Council Technology and the MS Society have teamed up to fast-track the discovery and development of drugs for multiple sclerosis. 

They are now both calling for new drug targets to help support small molecule and antibody targets into clinical trials, eventually helping these to become new treatments for MS.

The joint action will use London, UK-based MRC Technology’s experience in translating promising biology into lead stage therapeutics and the management of intellectual property, and combine this with MS Society’s experience in supporting academic research for the disease.

The MS Society will provide early translational funds for selected projects, with expected awards of up to £150,000 over two years. Upon completion, projects will be evaluated for progression into small molecule or therapeutic antibody projects by MRC Technology.

Interested researchers are asked to visit

Mike Johnson, director of corporate partnerships at MRC Technology, said “This new partnership with the MS Society builds on our already strong working relationship. By accessing MS targets discovered by MS researchers, we hope to begin the journey towards new treatments for this condition.”

Dr Susan Kohlhaas, head of biomedical research at the MS Society, said: “With an estimated 100,000 people living with MS in the UK it is essential that we drive forward research aimed at improving the lives of people with the condition. We’re delighted to be working with MRC Technology and capitalising on their expertise in identifying targets that have the potential to become new therapies.”

New deals, new drug targets

MRC Technology was once an arm of the Medical Research Council, but became independent in 2000 and although initially providing technology transfer services exclusively to MRC, they now work with multiple charitable and academic organisations.

It has helped 18 start-ups including the UK’s largest and most successful biotech companies including Celltech, now part of UCB, and Cambridge Antibody Technology, which was acquired by AstraZeneca in 2007, that helped develop the world’s biggest selling drug Humira.

The MS Society has also established several research deals, with its most recent being the £1 million tie up with the UK Stem Cell Foundation in December last year.

In May 2012 the Society joined other MS charities from around the world to lead a new collaboration to speed up the development of treatments for people with progressive forms of MS.

Today’s collaboration opens the MRC Technology laboratories up to a new source of targets from the MS research field, and it is hoped this will lead to new drugs in the future.

Current treatments for MS in the UK include interferon injections such as Roche’s Pegasys and Copegus, and Merck Serono’s Rebif. But new treatments are focused on reducing relapses of MS in a different way to these drugs, and are being developed in a pill form. 

In 2011 Novartis’ Gilenya became the first MS pill to become available in Europe, and after a bumpy ride, was eventually given a NICE recommendation for use on the NHS last year. The drug is expected to make over $1 billion in peak annual sales, with the MS market as a whole expected to grow with more new treatments on the horizon.