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
Roman Willi leads all scientific and business development activities related to the Nogo-A therapy. He is also acting as the founding CEO and CSO of the University of Zurich spin-off NovaGo Therapeutics AG. Prior to his current assignments, Roman Willi held a global role within Neuroscience Product Development at Roche, where he was the Lead Clinical Scientist for two large phase III clinical trials in Multiple Sclerosis. Prior to that, he was involved in preclinical research projects within Roche’s Neuroscience Discovery Department. He received his Ph.D. from ETH Zurich, where he studied with Martin Schwab at the Brain Research Institute.
Michael Maurer is part of the Wyss Zurich Novago team since January 2016. Originally coming from the pharmaceutical industry and being educated as chemical laboratory technician, he later received his M.Sc. in Biotechnology from ETH Zurich and his Ph.D. 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 Novago project, he serves as consultant for all antibody-related tasks and questions.
Tel: +41 44 635 32 13
Christina Sina joined Wyss Zurich in January 2016. She holds a Ph.D. in Immunology from the University of Zurich and worked in a PR agency for life science and health care communication. 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. She functions as project manager and supports business-related activities.
Tel: +41 44 635 32 62