Fast Forward, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Axxam SpA Renew their Partnership to Accelerate Development of Treatments for Multiple Sclerosis and Type 1 Diabetes

Scientists have found that certain links may exist between different autoimmune disorders, allowing research on one disease to shed light on another. One such potential link, between type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, led to a three-way partnership between Axxam SpA – a biotechnology company based in Italy that conducts early-stage research for life sciences – JDRF, and Fast Forward, LLC – a wholly owned subsidiary of the National MS Society devoted to fast-tracking commercial drug development. Formed in 2009, the goal of the partnership was to develop potential new treatments for the two autoimmune diseases. Now, the three organizations are renewing their partnership to fund further research and development.

The collaboration was spurred by studies about a possible link between the two autoimmune diseases: high levels of a specific ion channel, known as Kv1.3, are thought to contribute to the immune system’s dysfunction in both type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
Ion channels are pores on immune cells, which control the entry of charged particles known as ions. In autoimmune disorders, however, immune cells do not operate normally: In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing beta cells; and in multiple sclerosis, the immune system is thought to attack and damage myelin, the protective covering around nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord as well as the underlying nerve fibers themselves. Therefore, high levels of an ion channel on immune cells – such as the case with the Kv1.3 ion channel in people with type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis – could be likened to an over-zealous gatekeeper, somehow changing the function of those immune cells.

As part of the partnership, which began in December 2009, Axxam screened its extensive chemical library and identified modulators of the Kv1.3 ion channel activity. These modulators that were identified may hold the potential to calm the hyperactivity of the Kv1.3 ion channel that is thought to contribute to type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. The renewed partnership will fund Axxam’s further research into the development of these leading compounds, and build on efforts to improve the potency and selectivity of the molecular candidates that have been identified for Kv1.3.

The initial collaborative partnership between JDRF, Fast Forward, LLC, and Axxam was the first of its kind between cross-disciplinary patient advocacy organizations, and exemplifies the value of working together to explore and develop potential new therapies that could impact multiple disorders.