Health And Family

Spanish-Filipino biopharma seeks cure for multiple sclerosis

Joy Angelica Subido, Joy Angelica Subido, Karla Alindahao - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - It can start with fatigue, forgetfulness or sudden shooting pain. It can also begin with vision problems, numbness, a tingling sensation, dizziness or problems with coordination. Precisely because the early signs of multiple sclerosis are similar to that of other pathologies, it is a disease that is more often diagnosed in its later stages.

“Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurodegenerative disease that occurs when neurons or cells in the nervous system, brain, and spinal cord begin to deteriorate,” says Dr. Ana Martinez, research professor at the Biological Research Center (CIB) of the Spanish National Council for Research (CSIC). “As one of the world’s most common neurological disorders, MS is the leading cause of non-traumatic disability in young adults. MS is frequently diagnosed between ages 20 and 40 years old and is more frequent in women than in men, with a 3:1 ratio in the most recent studies.” 

Dr. Martinez explains that MS is a demyelinating condition wherein the myelin, the fatty material that covers or insulates nerves is damaged so that the ability for nerves to transmit impulses rapidly is impaired. “MS is a progressive autoimmune disorder where the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue. But why this happens isn’t known.

“What we know is that the damage is caused by inflammation.” While family history and aging are major risk factors for MS, Dr. Martinez tells us that lifestyle choices (stress reduction, moderate exercise, antioxidant intake, and cessation of smoking) can slow down the progress of the disease.

The most common type of MS that affects about 85 percent of those diagnosed is Relapsing Remitting MS (RRMS) where attacks are followed by recovery and a remission of symptoms so that the patient feels normal until the next episode of an attack. While the disease is considered “stable” at this time, it can happen that a patient will not return to his previous condition level after an attack. What this means is that damage to the nerves has occurred and scar tissue forms where damage is incurred in the nerve sheath.  Disease-modifying drugs are the current treatment for active RRMS. These suppress the immune system so that it doesn’t attack the protective myelin surrounding the nerves, thereby slowing down the progression of MS and preventing relapses.

It is unfortunate that RRMS tends to shift to a more progressive type with aging and the symptoms are expectedly more severe as the disease worsens. Apart from muscle weakness, difficulty of coordination and balance, paresthesia (or a sensation of tingling, tickling, prickling, or burning of a person’s skin), there can be loss of sensation, spasticity, and fatigue. More disturbing is that many MS patients “suffer some degree of cognitive impairment especially affecting the working memory, long-term memory, and executive function. There can be speech impediments, tremors, and hearing loss.”   

“What we interpret to be the natural consequences of aging can actually be due to neurodegeneration,” says Dr. Martinez. “It can be a tragedy when an intelligent, active, and independent person deteriorates because of MS.”

Because palliative treatment to reduce inflammation is the current modality, the possibility of discovering a drug which can cure MS is an exciting prospect.

Dr. Ana Martinez is at the forefront of finding a cure for MS and other neurodegenerative diseases. As a prominent Spanish scientist who has written more than 150 scientific publications, she leads numerous research projects on the medicinal chemistry and rational drug design of new drugs for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, spinal cord trauma, and MS. She has built a solid reputation for successful molecule discoveries for neurological diseases with more than 20 active patents in the field. These are currently being developed by several pharmaceutical companies. A most promising discovery by Dr. Martinez is a molecule that has been shown to reverse nerve damage (similar to that sustained from MS) in laboratory animals

“However, it may take up to 15 years for a drug discovery to be available to patients,” she rues. This is why she has created a biopharma company with the help of the investors from Spain and the Philippines, including Jose Maria Olbes as vice president for business development and Jose D. Leviste as general counselor, so that the process can be hastened.

Ankar Pharma is the biotechnological start-up that hopes to “accelerate the pathway from drug discovery to drug market sales.” The Spanish-Filipino company hopes to obtain pre-clinical trials for neurodegenerative diseases and license the discovery to pharmaceutical companies so that drugs can be developed for the clinical stages and be made available on the market. Ankar’s goal is to make the Philippines a scientific hub for biotech research and development.

* * *

For the project to flourish, Ankar Pharma officials who are of Filipino and Spanish descent are mounting an investor program to attract private investors, venture capitalists, and foundations in the Philippines and Spain to support research. Ankar is a Spanish-Filipino company composed of major shareholders Josemari Olbes, Jose Leviste III, and Dr. Ana Martinez. For more information, log on to info@ankarpharma.com or jmolbes@telefonica.net


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