Is targeting the B-cell sufficient to get on top of MS or do we need something extra?
I spoke at the MS Nurses’ MS@TheLimits2019 meeting at the Royal College of Physicians yesterday. My brief was to cover the role of B-cells in the pathogenesis of MS and to review the converging evidence that supports B-cells being the central player in the pathogenesis of MS.
It is clear that depleting B-cell therapies are very effective in controlling relapses and MRI activity. With a very favourable safety profile and relatively low treatment and monitoring burden, B cell therapies are likely to become one of the most widely prescribed classes of DMT. However, B-cell therapies don’t match HSCT, alemtuzumab and natalizumab when it comes to downstream end-organ damage markers, in particular, brain volume loss. Why? I wish I knew. But if I knew the answer to this question I would have a pretty good idea about the cause of MS.
A clue may be in the ‘Field Hypothesis‘. It is clear to me that relapses and focal MRI activity are not the primary events in MS. Focal inflammation is not MS. Focal inflammation is in response to what is causing MS and the cause is likely to be something in the CNS. Focal changes occur in the white matter weeks to months before you get a Gd-enhancing lesion. When you stop natalizumab and allow re-trafficking of lymphocytes you get rebound disease activity way and above what one would expect from pre-treatment baseline levels of disease activity. What is happening in the brain, or field, of these patients to trigger such a vigorous inflammatory response? Could it be a virus? Importantly, B-cells appear to be needed for the rebound response. Rituximab, and I suspect ocrelizumab, are very effective in preventing rebound. However, as both these agents target a small subset of T-cells you can’t claim categorically that the rebound is only driven by B-cells.
The difference between HSCT, alemtuzumab and natalizumab and the anti-B cell therapies (rituximab, ocrelizumab and possibly cladribine) is the former take out or inhibit trafficking of both T & B cells. As HSCT and Alemtuzumab have the best data in relation to long-term remission, or potential cures, you have to conclude that you need to target both B cell and T cells (substantial peripheral depletion) if this is your treatment aim.
Please note that I classify cladribine as a B-cell
I have always made the point that to treat MS you need much more than an anti-inflammatory and that you also have to have neuroprotective therapies and potentially remyelinating agents on board as well. If you have disabilities we need to be thinking about neurorestorative therapies and
So in short, targeting B-cells is important, but not sufficient to get on top of the shredder.
You will see that a large part of my talk was covering the link between EBV, B–cells and MS. The B-cell hypothesis at least strengthens the case for EBV being the cause of MS and the need for an EBV vaccine for MS prevention trials. Please don’t forget that EBV lives inside memory B cells and hijacks the B cell’s biology in many
My talk will be available online in a few weeks to help you interpret my presentation. In the interim you can download my talk from my slide sharing site.