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Gaining ground on multiple sclerosis
December 2012
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author

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PINE BROOK, N.J.—Late October saw Ezose Sciences Inc. announce an alliance with Fast Forward LLC, a subsidiary of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, to use Ezose's GlycanMap technology in the discovery of biomarkers to help diagnose multiple sclerosis (MS) and improve disease management.
 
Under the terms of a sponsored research agreement between the parties, Ezose will receive as much as $390,000 from Fast Forward to support the project.  
 
To execute the research program, Ezose is collaborating with Dr. Anthony Reder, a professor of neurology at the medical campus of the University of Chicago. Their research goal will be to discover new biomarkers associated 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 neurological disorders and to use the biomarkers to identify subtypes of MS.  
 
Ezose and Fast Forward also noted that the biomarker research should help in guiding the development of new MS therapies by increasing the speed and efficiency of research and development efforts.  
 
Ezose and Fast Forward first met at a bio-partnering conference in fall 2010, says Dr. Scott A. Siegel, chief operating officer of Ezose Sciences, noting that the two companies discussed Ezose's unique glycomics-based biomarker discovery technology and Fast Forward's mission to accelerate research aimed at improving the treatment of multiple sclerosis.
 
"Independently, Ezose also began building an interest and knowledge base in MS through discussions with other parties and review of the literature, which hinted that our glycomics approach could be especially relevant to this disease," Siegel explains. "It was through these independent discussions that we were introduced to Dr. Anthony Reder, a recognized expert in this field at the University of Chicago Medicine. In 2011, Ezose was then invited to apply for funding through a Fast Forward program focused on developing new tools and technologies for use in MS clinical research and development and clinical monitoring."  
 
Ezose applied for that funding in close collaboration with Reder, Siegel says, and that ultimately lead to the announced agreements with both Fast Forward and the University of Chicago Medical Center, which was rebranded this year so that it will be called—publically though not legally—the University of Chicago Medicine 
 
"We at Ezose are contributing a unique technology suite that promises to make glycan analysis an important contributor to medical advances," Siegel explains, while Reder is contributing his clinical insights and clinical samples he has collected in the course of his work at the University of Chicago Medicine. "And Fast Forward is contributing its financial resources and its experience in bringing together academic researchers and emerging biotechnology companies to accelerate the development of products for MS diagnosis and therapy," Siegel adds.
 
The short-term goal is to identify glycan biomarkers for MS—specific glycans and glycan patterns associated with MS and its subtypes, Siegel notes. "The long-term goal is to develop these biomarkers into diagnostic tests that could be broadly used in diagnosing and managing MS," he says. "There are times when a biomarker can also serve as a drug target, and we'll follow the path of discovery where it leads us. But right now the definite focus is diagnostics."  
 
"This alliance with Ezose is another example of Fast Forward's commitment to identifying promising technology and novel treatment approaches to bridge the gap between research discoveries and product development that will speed efforts to stop MS, restore function and end the disease forever," said Dr. Timothy Coetzee, chief research officer of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, in the news release about the deal.  
 
As Ezose explained in that same news release, its GlycanMap technology enables the study of glycomics via automated analysis of the sugar molecules known as glycans that attach to proteins in the body and affect their biochemical function. The speed and high throughput of this technology, the company says, hold the potential to discover new biomarkers and targets that can improve the diagnosis and management of disease, as well as enhance the efficiency of development of new therapeutic options.
 
"This alliance brings to MS research an approach that has never been explored before," Siegel says. "Others have reported in the scientific literature that changes in glycans may be among the earliest molecular changes associated with MS. So glycans could be particularly good candidates for diagnostics development."  
 
Until recently, however, the obstacle to pursuing this line of investigation has been the relatively slow and laborious lab techniques that were available for glycan analysis, he adds.  
 
"That analysis, and the field of glycomics generally, lagged behind genomics and proteomics because of the lack of high-throughput methods to study complex sugars like glycans," Siegel continues, adding that the GlycanMap platform deals with this problems by enabling the fast, high-throughput analysis that has been needed to better understand the role of glycans in health and disease.  
 
"The platform combines advanced glycan sampling and separation methods, mass spectrometry and custom bioinformatics. It is being applied not only to MS research but also to other disease areas including cancer and diabetes," he says.
 

 
Fast Forward, DioGenix collaborate on blood-based MDx test for MS
 
GAITHERSBURG, Md.—Fast Forward also announced in November an alliance with DioGenix Inc. to develop a novel blood test for multiple sclerosis (MS).  
 
Fast Forward will provide up to $500,000 as part of a sponsored research agreement that will enable DioGenix to expand an ongoing clinical trial of its MS diagnostic, MSPrecise, a proprietary next-generation sequencing assay that measures changes to the adaptive immune system by analyzing B cells isolated from cerebral spinal fluid (CSF). This funding will allow DioGenix to determine if the same approach will work in blood samples.  
 
MSPrecise uses next-generation sequencing to measure DNA mutations found in rearranged immunoglobin genes in B cells isolated from CSF. These mutations are a result of the adaptive immune system's response to a perceived challenge to the patient. The changes in the B cell DNA correspond to the production of diverse antibody libraries aimed at fighting the perceived foreign invader. It is believed that the specific mutational changes observed in patients with MS are different from those observed in patients with similar neurological diseases because the antigens recognized by the antibodies are different. MSPrecise would augment clinicians' current standard of care for diagnosis of MS, providing measurement of changes in B cell DNA as compared to the currently available test that merely measures the presence of immunoglobin G proteins in the CSF.  
 
"Our collaboration with Fast Forward will allow us to more rapidly develop new tests that can have a profound impact on the lives of people living with MS. With this important funding, we can extend the utility of our already reliable CSF-based MSPrecise assay into blood, providing an additional option for the use of our test by clinicians as part of their routine work-up of patients who are struggling with non-specific neurological symptoms," said Larry Tiffany, CEO of DioGenix, in a statement.
 
Code: E121215

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