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New drug therapy could improve brain function and life expectancy of ALS patients

May 25, 2017

BEER-SHEVA, Israel... May 23, 2017 - Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers are developing a new therapy for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) using part of an existing FDA-approved drug that restores the central nervous system's (CNS) immune defenses and increases life expectancy.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a lethal, progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects the motor nerve cells in both the brain and the spinal cord. The progressive degeneration of motor neurons leads to atrophy, paralysis and eventually death due to failure of the respiratory muscles.

Since the exact cause of ALS is unknown, current research has focused on extending the post-onset life expectancy, which is currently between two to five years for most patients.

Part of the disease's progression is linked to increased activity of glial cells, a type of immune cell that damages and kills the body's motor neuron cells and decreases their ability to cleanse the CNS environment.

Dr. Rachel Lichtenstein of the Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren Department of Biotechnology Engineering at BGU has focused on reducing this negative immune response. "We found a way to thwart the glial cells from attacking and killing healthy brain cells," says Dr. Lichtenstein.

She successfully redesigned a portion of MabThera, an FDA-approved drug used to treat certain autoimmune diseases and types of cancer, into a new molecule to treat ALS.

"Our experimental results on ALS transgenic mice showed a significant increase in life expectancy", says Dr. Lichtenstein. "Since the drug is already approved, we believe that we will only need limited preclinical testing to reach the clinical phase earlier than other initiatives."

"This could also have major implications on the life expectancy of other neurodegenerative disease patients with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's," says Dr. Ora Horovitz, senior vice president of business development at BGN Technologies, BGU's technology transfer and commercialization company. "Our new drug candidate may prove effective in boosting the self-cleansing mechanism of the human brain, thereby improving the lives of millions of people." The researchers are now seeking a pharmaceutical company partner.

Currently, there are only two drugs available for ALS patients: Reluzole (Rilutek), which helps extend patient survival by only three to six months; and the recently FDA- approved Edaravone (Radicava), which has demonstrated relatively modest success.
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About BGN Technologies

BGN Technologies (BGN) is the commercialization and technology company of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU). BGN is responsible for patent protection and commercialization of inventions and innovations of BGU researchers and students. BGN encourages and fosters an entrepreneurial ecosystem by creating startups, accelerators, innovation hubs, and creative partnerships with industry and investors, BGN brings value to BGU, to its researchers and to those in need of new and effective therapies. BGN Technologies will be participating in the 16th National Life Sciences & Technology Week May 23 - 25, 2017 at the David InterContinental hotel in Tel Aviv, Israel.

About American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (AABGU) plays a vital role in sustaining David Ben-Gurion's vision: creating a world-class institution of education and research in the Israeli desert, nurturing the Negev community and sharing the University's expertise locally and around the globe. As Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) looks ahead to turning 50 in 2020, AABGU imagines a future that goes beyond the walls of academia. It is a future where BGU invents a new world and inspires a vision for a stronger Israel and its next generation of leaders. Together with supporters, AABGU will help the University foster excellence in teaching, research and outreach to the communities of the Negev for the next 50 years and beyond. Visit vision.aabgu.org to learn more.

AABGU, which is headquartered in Manhattan, has nine regional offices throughout the United States. For more information, visit http://www.aabgu.org

American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

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