Opexa is a division of Pharmafronteirs (or it’s the other way around, I’m not sure) which is based at the Woodlands, near Houston, Texas.
The company specializes in cell therapies, based on adult stem cells and the controlled manipulation and replication of adult cells.
Multiple sclerosis (MS)is a disease that causes the loss of the myelin around nerves. Think of myelin as insulation that speeds the transmission of nerve signals. When myelin is lost, nerve signals can’t go where they’re needed, as fast as they are needed. People end up weak, with tremors, and the lack of balance, loss of coordination and the loss of the ability for the muscles that enable us to breathe and cough to function.
We know that MS is a sort of autoimmune disease in most cases. The cells that are supposed to fight infection and keep abnormal or injured cells that can cause cancer actually decide that the myelin needs to be destroyed.
For over 4 years, Pharmafrontiers or Opexa has been running a series of experiments using T cells – the specialized white blood cells that mature in the Thymus and which are supposed to kill foreign cells, like bacteria or cancer cells.
The company has a technique for isolating the patient’s specific T cells that attack their myelin, growing them in the lab until they have millions, and then treating them so they can’t multiply. The treated cells are then injected under the skin of the patient, and the body really notices the cells, and uses all the immune system to attack them – and all or most of the T cells in the body that act like them. So the myelin is not destroyed anymore – or at least not as fast.
Opexa are now in Phase IIb – meaning that they know it’s safe to use in people (Phase I tests) and are finding out more about how much is needed and who can be helped.
There’s a great first-person story about someone who is being treated as part of the experiment at “I Have MS.”
For a couple of very pretty videos that explain all this much better than I ever could – and the press release by the company about the Phase IIb trial — take a look at the Opexa site, at this page.
Opexa is selling the treatment as “Tovaxin™” – a vaccine.
That’s how vaccinations work, by the way. Our bodies are convinced to make antibodies and specialized white blood cells to kill or destroy the foreign bacteria, virus — and someday, cancer and all sorts of cells that inappropriately make those antibodies and attacks against our own normal cells, treating them as though they are damaged or foreign. As long as our bone marrow is healthy, we seem to be able to make a nearly unlimited number of those white blood cells (there’s also some “depots” or reserves out in the lymph nodes and in the liver, spleen and the gut lining where the cells lurk and wait for their chance to multiply and fight disease, evidently). And I think this is how “allergy shots” work.