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National MS Society Invests $7 Million in New Research to Speed Repair of the Nervous System

September 27, 2013

-- Awards advance Society’s NOW Campaign goals to protect and restore nerve-insulating myelin damaged by multiple sclerosis and bring about recovery of function for people living with the disease

The National MS Society has just committed $7 million to support 15 new research projects focusing on innovative approaches to repair the coating of myelin that protects nerve fibers and which is destroyed by the MS disease process. Finding ways to restore and protect the damaged nervous system is a key priority of National MS Society’s No Opportunity Wasted (NOW) Campaign research to stop the disease in its tracks, to restore function, and ultimately end MS forever. These new investments, in both commercial therapeutics and academic research, expand the Society’s comprehensive portfolio to 88 current research projects focusing on repairing the nervous system in people with MS, with multi-year commitments totaling $37.8 million.

“The idea of rebuilding the nervous system and protecting it from ongoing MS damage was a just dream a few years ago,” noted Dr. Timothy Coetzee, Chief Research Officer of the National MS Society. “Now, because of efforts by the research community as well as focused investments by the Society, we can see a future where people with MS will have treatments that could restore what’s been lost,” he added.

The Society’s new commercial investments in drug development through Fast Forward include:

  • CuroNZ, an Auckland biotechnology company, was awarded $ 540,000 to support preclinical studies to develop CuroNZ’s   NRP2945 candidate as a potential therapy to protect the nervous system from MS damage.  The funding will enable CuroNZ to undertake pre-clinical proof of concept, pharmacokinetic and toxicity studies to bring the drug candidate lead NRP2945 closer to an investigational new drug (IND) application. CuroNZ will collaborate with leading research organizations including the University of Auckland and Monash University in Melbourne.
  • ENDECE Neural, a private biotechnology company, has received $225,000 in funding to advance the preclinical development of the company’s lead compound, NDC-1308, focusing on repairing the protective myelin covering surrounding axons (nerve fibers) in the brain and spinal cord.  Previous studies in NDC-1308 demonstrated the ability to significantly remyelinate the myelin sheath in mice.
  • Karo Bio AB, an emerging pharmaceutical company, has been awarded $499,631 for preclinical development of a novel treatment, ERbeta agonists, which have potential to slow disease progression in MS based on preclinical models showing that it protects neurons and restores myelin. This envisaged profile differs dramatically from currently approved MS therapies.
  • Karyopharm Therapeutics Inc., a clinical-stage pharmaceutical company, has been awarded $500,000 to conduct tests on Selective Inhibitors of Nuclear Export (SINE) compounds for development as a treatment aimed at protecting the nervous system and stopping MS progression. These compounds inhibit release of inflammatory proteins and increase concentrations of neuroprotective factors. The company is determining the mechanism of action and possible toxic effects, and gathering data to select a leading SINE candidate.

The Society’s new commitments to academic researchers include:

  • A $499,500 research grant to New York University neuroscientist James Salzer, MD, PhD, to identify chemical signals that can stimulate stem cells residing in the brain to increase the numbers of myelin-making cells, and ramp up the body’s natural ability to repair damaged myelin. This could lead to the development of new treatments to repair myelin damage and restore function in people who have MS.
  • A $587,310 research grant to University of North Carolina scientist Glenn Matsushima, PhD, to look for therapies that may reduce or halt MS damage to the cells that make myelin, which are attacked by the immune system in MS. His team is screening medicines already approved by the FDA for other uses, to see whether they prevent damage to these cells, and then testing them in rodents to further understand their potential as possible treatments for people with MS.
  • A $554,974 research grant to University at Buffalo SUNY scientist Fraser Sim, PhD, to investigate the importance of a gene called the “M3 receptor” to myelin repair. When activated, this gene stops the ability of immature cells to turn into mature myelin-making cells. His team is testing whether an FDA-approved therapy that blocks M3 can increase myelin synthesis, and whether this is a viable strategy to stimulate myelin repair in MS.

Momentum in the challenging field of myelin repair has been building since the National MS Society’s 2005 global initiative funded four collaborative teams focusing on nervous system protection and repair, which was funded through the Society's Promise: 2010 campaign. Achieving success would provide life-changing advances for people with MS as it could allow us to stop disease progression and restore neurological function for people with all types of MS, including progressive forms of the disease.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.


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