Gene discovery could lead to personalized medicine for MS sufferers

‘We analyzed the DNA sequences in 27 candidate genes from each patient participating in the trial, and we identified two genes with a high potential for determining the response to Copaxone.’A group of Israeli scientists from the Technion -Israel Institute …

‘We analyzed the DNA sequences in 27 candidate genes from each patient participating in the trial, and we identified two genes with a high potential for determining the response to Copaxone.’A group of Israeli scientists from the Technion -Israel Institute of Technology, the Weizmann Institute of Science and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries have recently identified genes responsible for the positive response of many multiple sclerosis patients to the drug Copaxone. These findings may contribute to the development of personalized medicine for multiple sclerosis sufferers.

Copaxone was the first original Israeli drug to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and is today marketed in over 40 countries worldwide, including the US, Europe, Australia, Latin America and Israel.

The drug molecule was the fruit of research by Prof. Michael Sela, Prof. Ruth Arnon and Dr. Dvora Teitelbaum of the Weizmann Institute’s Immunology Department. It was developed for the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS) by Teva, which produces and markets Copaxone today.

“Until now, medical treatments for all kinds of diseases have relied on trial and error methods to determine dosage and treatment protocols,” explained Prof. Ariel Miller of the Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine at the Technion, and Head of the Multiple Sclerosis and Brain Research Center, Carmel Medical Center, Haifa. “But the process of fixing the correct dosage affects the efficacy of the treatment and can lead to complications in some cases.”

In the past few years, it has been shown that many drugs are not equally effective for every patient, and this variability is due, at least in part, to genetic differences. Finding medications and doses to suit the genetic make-up of each individual patient is likely to be more successful and to cause fewer side effects.

The new research, which deals with the genetic components of the response to Copaxone, was recently published in the journal Pharmacogenetics and Genomics and represents a significant step toward realizing this medical vision.

In the collaborative study, Teva supplied DNA samples from drug-treated patients, and the genetic tests were performed at the Crown Human Genome Center of the Weizmann Institute, headed by Prof. Doron Lancet of the Institute’s Department of Molecular Genetics. The scientists used state-of-the-art equipment – the first of its kind in Israel – which allows for the rapid and accurate scanning of variations in the human genome.

The scientists then examined the links between the genetic markers they found and the response of MS patients to Copaxone. They identified several genes that are tied to a positive response to the drug.

“We analyzed the DNA sequences in 27 candidate genes from each patient participating in the trial,” said Lancet, “and we identified two genes with a high potential for determining the response to Copaxone.

“In the future, it may be possible to use this method to scan the genome of MS sufferers, to predict the response levels in advance, and to optimize the dosage and treatment protocol to suit each patient personally.”