Exciting Research on Vaccines for Multiple Sclerosis

An New Class of Future Multiple Sclerosis Therapies

Variety of drugs including vials, ampules and vaccines illustrating medical research
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If you suffer from MS or have a loved one who does, you probably spend a lot of time thinking, wishing, or praying for better treatments, even a cure. The good news is that there are a vast number of MS therapies being studied right now, both in the lab and within clinical trials. One promising therapeutic advance is the development of an MS vaccine. 

Distinguishing an MS Vaccine from Other Vaccines

When you think of vaccines, most of us think of rolling up our sleeves to get an injection that will prevent us from getting a number of terrible diseases, such as influenza, measles, or rubella.

These vaccines contain viruses or bacteria that have been weakened or killed so that they don’t make us really sick, but do trick our immune system into mounting a response.

But the goal of an MS vaccine would not be preventive. Rather, it's mechanism would be therapeutic. This means it would be given to prevent or lessen the severity of MS-related symptoms and health problems in a person who is already diagnosed with MS.

Another difference between traditional vaccines and a MS vaccine candidate is that traditional vaccines are designed to prevent an infectious disease – that is, a disease that is the result of becoming infected with foreign microorganisms, such as viruses or bacteria. However, MS is not an infectious disease. Instead, MS is an autoimmune disease. For some reason, our own immune systems are attacking the myelin and nerve fibers in our central nervous systems. In other words, MS is caused by something that our body is doing to itself, and not caused by a foreign invader.

So, the components of the MS vaccine candidates are not microorganisms but other things designed to “tweak” our immune systems in different ways to stop our immune cells from attacking our brain and spinal cord. 

What Are the MS Vaccines Being Studies?

Here are four different MS vaccine candidates being tested: Tcelna, NeuroVax, BHT-3009, and RTL1000.

Each of these vaccines uses a different approach to reach its goal of stopping autoimmune activity against myelin.

Tcelna (formerly Tovaxin): Tcelna—which used to be called Tovaxin—is an autologous T-cell vaccine, meaning that it consists of a person’s own myelin-reactive T-cells, the ones responsible for attacking the myelin in people with MS, which have been killed. By injecting a big dose of these back into the person, Tovaxin gets the immune system to destroy the rest of these cells in circulation without affecting the rest of the immune system. 

This vaccine has been found to be safe but did not significantly reduce the total number of gadolinium-enhancing MS lesions in a study of 150 patients in 2008. It's now undergoing a new clinical trial, launched in 2012 under the name Tcelna, to evaluate its role in reducing brain atrophy and delaying disability.

NeuroVax: NeuroVax is a T-cell receptor peptide vaccine, meaning that it's made from pieces of protein that resemble parts of the pathogenic T-cells that attack myelin.

It's designed to stimulate the body to make more of the regulatory T-cells that control the activity of these pathogenic, or "bad" T-cells. 

Neurovax is injected into the muscle every 4 weeks. Phase 2 clinical trials for secondary progressive multiple sclerosis are currently being developed for this experimental vaccine. 

BHT-3009: This vaccine is made of genetically engineered DNA that resembles the protein in myelin that our own immune cells attack, called myelin basic protein. Its purpose is to encode a "switch" that regulates the immune response, in effect "reeducating" the immune cells that attack the myelin sheath in people with MS.  

Scientific studies show that the vaccine is safe and well-tolerated and it may be entering Phase III clinical trials soon.

RTL1000: “RTL” is short for “recombinant T-cell receptor ligands,” which are proteins that bind to the receptor of the T-cells that are damaging the myelin in people with MS. By tying up these receptors, the T-cells are no longer able to do damage. Some experts do not include this one in the “vaccine” categories while others do.

RTL1000 was found to be safe and well-tolerated as a single intravenous administration in a small Phase 1 clinical trial. Researchers are planning on moving forward to test its safety and effectiveness as multiple monthly infusions in a Phase 2 trial.

Exciting Advances in Multiple Sclerosis

These potential vaccines give many of us hope. Yes, they are still in testing and far away from being available to most of us. However, they are very exciting. Consider discussing them with your doctor and following the trials on the Clinical Trials Database.


Correale J, Farez M, Gilmore W. Vaccines for multiple sclerosis: progress to date. CNS Drugs. 2008;22(3):175-98.

Correale J & Fiol M. BHT-3009, a myelin basic protein-encoding plasmid for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. Curr Opin Mol Ther. 2009 Aug;11(4):463-70.

Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. (2013). Experimental Medications: Tcelna (formerly Tovaxin). Retrieved January 10th 2015. 

Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. (2013). Experimental Medications: BHT-3009. Retrieved January 19th 2015. 

Yadav V et al.  Recombinant T-Cell Receptor Ligand (RTL) for treatment of multiple sclerosis: A double-blind, placebo-controlled, phase 1, dose-escalation study. Autoimmune Dis. 2012;2012:954739. 

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