How Understanding a Common Virus May Help Treat Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

How Understanding a Common Virus May Help Treat Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

(BPT) – Sponsored by Atara Biotherapeutics

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic unpredictable neurological autoimmune disease that affects an estimated 1 million adults in the U.S.1 In MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks the central nervous system (CNS) which can affect a person’s muscle control, balance, vision, sensation and cognitive function. Of the 2.8 million people with MS globally, 1 million live with a severe form of the disease called progressive MS.2,3 People living with progressive MS can face enormous uncertainty as they experience worsening symptoms and gradual accumulation of disability affecting their daily lives and outlook on life.

Though the exact cause of MS is still unknown, environmental and genetic risk factors are associated with the risk of developing MS. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is one of the most well-established risk factors in MS supported by more than 20 years of research demonstrating the link between EBV infection and development of MS.4,5

About 95 percent of people around the world are infected with EBV at some point in their lives. However, most people’s immune system can control the virus, which remains hidden in human B cells with little or no adverse effects.5 EBV infection has been reported in 100 percent of people with MS.6-8 Interestingly, the risk of MS is extremely low in people not infected with EBV but increases sharply in the same individuals following EBV infection.9-10

Despite advances in MS, treatment options are few for those living with progressive MS. Therapies used to treat progressive MS have limited effect in slowing or reversing disability, demonstrating an urgent need for new and innovative options.

By understanding the role of EBV in MS and the body’s immune system, researchers have developed an investigational therapy called ATA188 which specifically recognizes EBV-infected immune cells (B cells and plasma cells) in the CNS. ATA188 is currently being studied in a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial for the treatment of progressive MS (NCT03283826).

This trial is ongoing and currently seeking participants. If you or someone you know is living with progressive MS and is interested in participating or learning more, please visit for study details or to find a site near you.


  1. National MS Society Website:
  2. Multiple Sclerosis International Federation:
  3. Multiple Sclerosis International Federation:
  4. Pender MP. The essential role of Epstein-Barr virus in the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis. Neuroscientist, 2011;17(4):351-67.
  5. Bar-Or A et al. Epstein-Barr Virus in Multiple Sclerosis: Theory and Emerging Immunotherapies. Trends Mol Med, 2020;26(3):296-310.
  6. Pakpoor J et al. The risk of developing multiple sclerosis in individuals seronegative for Epstein-Barr virus: a meta-analysis. Mult Scler. 2013;19(2):162-6.
  7. Dobston R et al. Epstein-Barr-negative MS: a true phenomenon? Neurol Neuroimmunol Neuroinflamm. 2017;4(2):e318.
  8. Ruprecht K. Absence of Epstein-Barr virus seronegativity in a large cohort of patients with early multiple sclerosis. ECTRIMS Online Library. 2018;232073;320.
  9. Levin LI et al. Primary infection with the Epstein-Barr virus and risk of multiple sclerosis. Ann Neurol, 2010;67(6):824-30.
  10. Ascherio A et al. The initiation and prevention of multiple sclerosis. Nat Rev Neurol, 2012;8(11):602-12.


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