Multiple sclerosis (MS): Drug targeting Epstein-Barr virus shows promise

  • Researchers are investigating the effects of a drug that targets the Epstein-Barr virus in people with multiple sclerosis (MS) in an ongoing phase 1 clinical trial.
  • The drug improves MS symptoms and may even reverse the condition.
  • The researchers are now recruiting for a Phase 2 clinical trial to further study the drug’s effects.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic condition that affects the central nervous system (CNS). It is characterized by the immune system attacking myelin sheaths — fatty layers that surround nerve fibers and enable them to communicate.

A study published in early 2022 found that contracting the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a herpes virus, significantly increases a person’s risk of MS. Multiple studies have also found EBV-infected immune B cells in patients with MS.

Researchers still don’t know how EBV may increase MS risk. However, one study suggests that EBV proteins may mimic human myelin proteins and induce an immune reaction against myelin by CNS antigens.   (See link for article)



  • Atara Biotherapeutics, Inc. is in the middle of a Phase 1 clinical trial utilizing ATA118 that targets EBV-infected cells in people with MS.
  • Of 24 volunteers receiving varying doses, 20 showed improvement or halt in progression after 1 year.
  • Of 18 volunteers who took the drug for up to 39 months, half achieved sustained disability improvement with 7 showing signs of remyelination
  • Results will be presented at a conference by Atara on October 13th, 2022.
  • A188 might:
    • Interrupt cell-mediated autoimmune cascade driven by EBV-infected B cells.
    • Reduce the production of myelin-targeted antibodies made by EBV-infected plasma cells.
  • No serious or fatal side-effects were experienced, although one volunteer suffered a relapse.
  • Higher doses led to greater clinical responses.
  • The small sample size requires further research.
  • Atara is actively recruiting for a randomized, Phase 2, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.

Important quote:

“A majority of persons with MS appear to have been exposed to EBV. There is a protein on the EBV that is the same as a protein in myelin. When the body’s immune system attacks the virus, it also ends up attacking the myelin. Clearing the virus would decrease the stimulus for the immune cells to attack the myelin.” ~ Barbara Giesser, MD, neurologist and MS specialist

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