Nerve fibers in the adult central nervous system (i.e. spinal cord and brain) fail to regenerate after injury, and to date there are no therapies for enhancing their repair. Spinal cord injuries affect people’s lives in a dramatic and long-term fashion, and the social and economic burden of life-long care is enormous.
For a long time there was a dogma that damaged fiber tracts of the central nervous system could not regenerate. However, there is accumulating evidence that specific inhibitory molecules found in myelin (protective layer around nerve fibers) are responsible for the absence of nerve fiber regeneration and the poor functional recovery after injury. This concept, as well as the discovery of the most potent currently known of such growth inhibitors, the membrane protein Nogo-A, were discovered in Zurich by Professor Martin Schwab and his group. His team also demonstrated that antibodies blocking the function of Nogo-A led to long-distance regeneration of injured nerve fibers in the spinal cord of monkeys and rats, and greatly improved their functional recovery.
Based on these promising preclinical results, a phase I (first-in-man) clinical trial in patients with spinal cord injury was conducted, proving excellent safety and tolerability of a human anti-Nogo-A antibody. With the support of the Regenerative Medicine Technologies Platform of Wyss Zurich, the team will now produce a new batch of this therapeutic anti-Nogo-A antibody. This antibody will enable the critical transition to phase II clinical trials, aimed to determine clinical efficacy of the anti-Nogo-A antibody in patients with spinal cord injury.
Beyond the field of spinal cord injury, these clinical studies will serve as a model for other disorders where nerve fibers of the central nervous system become injured, and may thus have a broad impact for the treatment of neurological diseases in general. A positive outcome of the planned clinical trials would be a real breakthrough in neurology, neuroscience and the field of tissue regeneration and repair.
Download CeNeReg fact sheet
Watch a related video produced by the Swiss Television (SRF) in 2014: Hoffnung für Gelähmte (in German)
Co-funded by the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme of the European Union
European Research Council
Swiss National Science Foundation
Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation
Project Manager (Substitute for Christina Sina)
Martina Maibach is part of the Wyss Zurich CeNeReg team since February 2018. After receiving her MSc in Cell Biology from ETH Zurich, she is currently pursuing a doctorate title in neuroscience. With her work, she aims to enhance axonal regeneration and functional recovery after injury to the central nervous system such as stroke or spinal cord injury. Martina joined the CeNeReg team as a temporal substitute for Christina Sina and will take over her responsibilities coordinating study drug production, logistics, and supply.
Christina Sina joined the Wyss Zurich CeNeReg team in January 2016 and became Co-Project Leader in January 2018. She is responsible for coordinating study drug production, logistics, and supply. In addition, she is the scientific coordinator of Martin Schwab and supports the translation of his basic Nogo-A research into clinical application of the anti-Nogo-A antibody therapy. Christina holds a PhD in Immunology from the University of Zurich and worked in a PR agency for life science and health care communication.
Eduardo Vianna joined the Wyss Zurich CeNeReg team in January 2018 as Co-Project Leader. He is the CEO of the biotech startup company NovaGo Therapeutics AG and leads all clinical and business development activities related to the Nogo-A therapy. He holds a PhD in Neuroscience as well as an MBA and has more than 15 years of experience in neuroscience research and development. Prior to his current assignments, Eduardo Vianna worked for both Merck Serono and Roche, serving in global roles of increasing responsibility within medical affairs, clinical development, and portfolio management.
Michael Maurer is part of the Wyss Zurich CeNeReg team since January 2016. Originally coming from the pharmaceutical industry and being educated as chemical laboratory technician, he later received his MSc in Biotechnology from ETH Zurich and his PhD in Immunology from the University of Zurich. As Senior Scientist in the Schwab laboratory, his research focuses on Nogo-A antigens and anti-Nogo-A antibodies. Within the Wyss Zurich CeNeReg project, he serves as consultant for all antibody-related tasks and questions.