Published May 24, 2021
Research by M. Laura Feltri, MD, that seeks to design and develop a therapy for multiple sclerosis (MS) — leveraging a novel drug target discovered by Feltri’s team — has received a $250,000 investment from the Empire Discovery Institute (EDI).
Within the central nervous system, a coating called the myelin sheath protects nerve cells, akin to the coating around electric wires. When this protective layer is damaged, the body will make repairs. In patients with MS, this process, called remyelination, becomes inefficient over time.
The focus of the project is on developing a treatment to correct the remyelination repair function in MS patients. This will involve synthesizing, testing and optimizing compounds that could inhibit the novel drug target that Feltri — SUNY Distinguished Professor of biochemistry and neurology and acting director of the Hunter James Kelly Research Institute — and her colleagues have identified.
In MS, damage to the central nervous system causes problems that can include fatigue, numbness, weakness, dizziness, blurred vision and difficulty walking. Symptoms vary between patients, and can range from mild to severe. The Multiple Sclerosis International Federation estimated in 2020 that 2.8 million people globally have MS. Western New York has a high prevalence of MS, with a 2013 statement from the Upstate New York chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society noting that diagnosis rates in the region were double the U.S. average.
EDI is investing in Feltri’s research through its Medicines Discovery Award Program, a competitive incubator and accelerator program designed to identify and advance promising early-stage drug discovery into early “proofs of concept.” Successful projects will exit the program as either a licensing transaction to a strategic pharmaceutical partner or as an EDI-created startup company.
Feltri is part of the initial class of five researchers to receive funding. Adam Tulgan, EDI’s chief operating officer, said the corporation was impressed with Feltri’s presentation.
“Ultimately, when EDI inducts a project into the program it’s because there’s a lot of promise, there’s a lot of potential and there’s a very enthusiastic PI,” Tulgan says. “We can see a lot of potential applications for her technology and how it can help patients.”
Established with $35.4 million in initial funding from Empire State Development, EDI works in partnership with research labs at UB, the University of Rochester and Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.