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Epstein-Barr Virus and Autoimmune Disease: Jakob Dupont, MD

The global head of research and development at Atara Biotherapeutics discussed the future of MS research.

"We're beginning to learn more and more about [Epstein-Barr virus]. This idea that a virus can actually activate an autoimmune cascade that can be very detrimental to particular patients is very important and I think we're going to learn more in the coming years. There's even a recent publication that implicates EBV and reactivation in long COVID. This molecular mimicry with a virus like EBV really seems to have the ability to cause havoc with the immune system, and lead to human pathology.”

A recent publication in Science has elucidated the relationship between multiple sclerosis (MS) and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), with a high prevalence of EBV infections associated with MS.1 Another paper published soon after in Nature proposed a possible mechanism of how EBV could lead to MS.2

Research and therapeutic development in MS may be influenced by the findings, but this isn’t a new avenue of research for Atara Biotherapeutics, whose cell therapy candidate ATA188 targets EBV-infected cells for the potential treatment of MS. ATA188 is currently being evaluated in the phase 2 EMBOLD study (NCT03283826) and has demonstrated positive data in its phase 1 study and open-label extension.3

CGTLive spoke with Jakob Dupont, MD, global head, research and development, Atara, to learn more about future avenues of research in MS as well as pursuing further research on the relationship between EBV and other autoimmune diseases.

1. Bjornevik K, Cortese M, Healy BC, et al. Longitudinal analysis reveals high prevalence of Epstein-Barr virus associated with multiple sclerosis. Science. 2022; 375(6578): 296-301. doi:10.1126/science.abj8222
2. Lanz TV, Brewer RC, Ho PP, et al. Clonally expanded B cells in multiple sclerosis bind EBV EBNA1 and GlialCAM. Nature. Published online January 24, 2022. doi:10.1038/s41586-022-04432-7
3. Atara Biotherapeutics presents new magnetization transfer ratio imaging data and two-year clinical data from the open label extension of ATA188 for progressive multiple sclerosis at ECTRIMS 2021. News release. Atara Biotherapeutics. October 13, 2021. https://investors.atarabio.com/news-events/press-releases/detail/248/atara-biotherapeutics-presents-new-magnetization-transfer