Gaining ground on multiple sclerosis

Ezose Sciences forms alliance with Fast Forward to discover biomarkers for diagnosing multiple sclerosis

Jeffrey Bouley
PINE BROOK, N.J.—Late October saw Ezose Sciences Inc.announce an alliance with Fast Forward LLC, a subsidiary of the NationalMultiple Sclerosis Society, to use Ezose's GlycanMap technology in thediscovery of biomarkers to help diagnose multiple sclerosis (MS) and improvedisease management.
 
Under the terms of a sponsored research agreement betweenthe parties, Ezose will receive as much as $390,000 from Fast Forward tosupport the project.
 
 
To execute the research program, Ezose is collaborating withDr. Anthony Reder, a professor of neurology at the medical campus of theUniversity of Chicago. Their research goal will be to discover new biomarkersassociated with MS to enable earlier, more accurate diagnosis of the disease,improve prognosis, aid in therapy selection and evaluate response to therapy.Other, related goals will be to distinguish MS from other neurologicaldisorders and to use the biomarkers to identify subtypes of MS.
 
 
Ezose and Fast Forward also noted that the biomarkerresearch should help in guiding the development of new MS therapies byincreasing the speed and efficiency of research and development efforts.
 
 
Ezose and Fast Forward first met at a bio-partneringconference in fall 2010, says Dr. Scott A. Siegel, chief operating officer ofEzose Sciences, noting that the two companies discussed Ezose's uniqueglycomics-based biomarker discovery technology and Fast Forward's mission toaccelerate research aimed at improving the treatment of multiple sclerosis.
 
"Independently, Ezose also began building an interest andknowledge base in MS through discussions with other parties and review of theliterature, which hinted that our glycomics approach could be especiallyrelevant to this disease," Siegel explains. "It was through these independentdiscussions that we were introduced to Dr. Anthony Reder, a recognized expertin this field at the University of Chicago Medicine. In 2011, Ezose was theninvited to apply for funding through a Fast Forward program focused ondeveloping new tools and technologies for use in MS clinical research anddevelopment and clinical monitoring."
 
 
Ezose applied for that funding in close collaboration withReder, Siegel says, and that ultimately lead to the announced agreements withboth Fast Forward and the University of Chicago Medical Center, which wasrebranded this year so that it will be called—publically though not legally—theUniversity of Chicago Medicine
 
 
"We at Ezose are contributing a unique technology suite thatpromises to make glycan analysis an important contributor to medical advances,"Siegel explains, while Reder is contributing his clinical insights and clinicalsamples he has collected in the course of his work at the University of ChicagoMedicine. "And Fast Forward is contributing its financial resources and itsexperience in bringing together academic researchers and emerging biotechnologycompanies to accelerate the development of products for MS diagnosis andtherapy," Siegel adds.
 
The short-term goal is to identify glycan biomarkers forMS—specific glycans and glycan patterns associated with MS and its subtypes,Siegel notes. "The long-term goal is to develop these biomarkers intodiagnostic tests that could be broadly used in diagnosing and managing MS," hesays. "There are times when a biomarker can also serve as a drug target, andwe'll follow the path of discovery where it leads us. But right now thedefinite focus is diagnostics."
 
 
"This alliance with Ezose is another example of FastForward's commitment to identifying promising technology and novel treatmentapproaches to bridge the gap between research discoveries and productdevelopment that will speed efforts to stop MS, restore function and end thedisease forever," said Dr. Timothy Coetzee, chief research officer of theNational Multiple Sclerosis Society, in the news release about the deal.
 
 
As Ezose explained in that same news release, its GlycanMaptechnology enables the study of glycomics via automated analysis of the sugarmolecules known as glycans that attach to proteins in the body and affect theirbiochemical function. The speed and high throughput of this technology, thecompany says, hold the potential to discover new biomarkers and targets thatcan improve the diagnosis and management of disease, as well as enhance theefficiency of development of new therapeutic options.
 
"This alliance brings to MS research an approach that hasnever been explored before," Siegel says. "Others have reported in thescientific literature that changes in glycans may be among the earliestmolecular changes associated with MS. So glycans could be particularly goodcandidates for diagnostics development."
 
 
Until recently, however, the obstacle to pursuing this lineof investigation has been the relatively slow and laborious lab techniques thatwere available for glycan analysis, he adds.
 
 
"That analysis, and the field of glycomics generally, laggedbehind genomics and proteomics because of the lack of high-throughput methodsto study complex sugars like glycans," Siegel continues, adding that theGlycanMap platform deals with this problems by enabling the fast,high-throughput analysis that has been needed to better understand the role ofglycans in health and disease.
 
 
"The platform combines advanced glycan sampling andseparation methods, mass spectrometry and custom bioinformatics. It is beingapplied not only to MS research but also to other disease areas including cancerand diabetes," he says.
 

 
Fast Forward, DioGenix collaborate on blood-based MDxtest for MS
 
GAITHERSBURG, Md.—Fast Forward also announced in November analliance with DioGenix Inc. to develop a novel blood test for multiplesclerosis (MS).
 
 
Fast Forward will provide up to $500,000 as part of asponsored research agreement that will enable DioGenix to expand an ongoingclinical trial of its MS diagnostic, MSPrecise, a proprietary next-generationsequencing assay that measures changes to the adaptive immune system byanalyzing B cells isolated from cerebral spinal fluid (CSF). This funding willallow DioGenix to determine if the same approach will work in blood samples.
 
 
MSPrecise uses next-generation sequencing to measure DNAmutations found in rearranged immunoglobin genes in B cells isolated from CSF.These mutations are a result of the adaptive immune system's response to aperceived challenge to the patient.
The changes in the B cell DNA correspond to the productionof diverse antibody libraries aimed at fighting the perceived foreign invader.It is believed that the specific mutational changes observed in patients withMS are different from those observed in patients with similar neurologicaldiseases because the antigens recognized by the antibodies are different.MSPrecise would augment clinicians' current standard of care for diagnosis ofMS, providing measurement of changes in B cell DNA as compared to the currentlyavailable test that merely measures the presence of immunoglobin G proteins inthe CSF.
 
 
"Our collaboration with Fast Forward will allow us to morerapidly develop new tests that can have a profound impact on the lives ofpeople living with MS. With this important funding, we can extend the utilityof our already reliable CSF-based MSPrecise assay into blood, providing anadditional option for the use of our test by clinicians as part of theirroutine work-up of patients who are struggling with non-specific neurologicalsymptoms," said Larry Tiffany, CEO of DioGenix, in a statement.

Jeffrey Bouley

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