Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Drug Discovery Project led by Dr. Gianvito Martino
MS is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerve. The disease attacks and destroys myelin – the protective fatty insulation around the nerve fibers of the brain and spinal cord – interrupting signals between the brain and the body. The damage caused by these attacks is where the disease gets its name ‘multiple sclerosis’ literally meaning ‘many scars’. The damage is lasting and stays with you forever.
Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as poor balance, painful spells, paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from person to person and from time to time in the same individual, which makes it hard to diagnose and treat.
Each individual’s experience of MS is unique, with a different combination of symptoms and severity. But everyone with the disease lives with the uncertainty of whether it will progress and whether they will lose the ability to do the things that matter most to them. There are 2 types of MS, Relapsing-Remitting, and a more acute version, known as progressive MS. A diagnosis of progressive MS takes the challenge of living with MS to a new level because, unlike Relapsing-Remitting MS, there are limited effective treatments for Progressive MS.
Every day, people with Progressive MS lose some of their ability to move, think, and connect with those they love and the greater world. While there are many approved disease-modifying treatments for Relapsing forms of MS, there are limited approved treatments for Progressive MS. These treatments are still insufficient to fully address Progressive MS. We need to better understand this debilitating form of MS, which is a complex and challenging problem and discover disease modifying therapies.
The International Progressive MS Alliance was established to foster global collaboration among MS organizations, researchers, clinicians, pharmaceutical companies, and people living with progressive MS to fuel necessary research to speed up treatment development for progressive MS.
Initially the Alliance received 52 applications from around the world, involving almost 500 investigators. Following extensive peer and technical review, involving key academia and industry experts, three projects and collaborative networks were funded for a duration of 4 years. In 2018, The Foundation For A Better World committed to fully fund one of these efforts.
The project is being led by Gianvito Martino, M.D. at the Division of Neuroscience at the San Raffaele Institute in Milan, Italy and involves a collaborative network of 13 different investigators from Europe, Canada and the U.S.
The team is working to identify molecules that may have a protective role in nerve cells or neurons and/or the capacity to promote myelin repair. They are focusing their efforts in three phases:
- Identifying potential drugs or compounds using sophisticated bioinformatics tools specifically developed to virtually reproduce pathogenic mechanisms of MS.
- Screening these compounds for their ability to protect nerve cells or promote myelin repair in laboratory tests using both rodent and human neurons and myelin forming cells.
- Evaluating in animal models of progressive MS the therapeutic potential of the ‘candidate’ compounds identified through the in vitro screening.
The research team expects to identify a limited number of previously unidentified molecules with a high chance of therapeutic power in progressive MS patients. They expect that within four years from the start of the project they will identity one or two human grade compounds that can be used in Phase I/II clinical trials in patients with Progressive MS.
The Foundation For a Better World is intimately involved in reviewing the progress of the project. We have been impressed with the leadership of Dr. Martino in integrating the research being done in many centers of excellence around the world. Despite the obvious setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Martino’s project is still on schedule and already showing remarkable results.
Funda Emi – COVID-19 Relief – Guatemala
As the pandemic raged across the globe, we reached out to all our beneficiaries to assess the situation on the ground and find ways in which we could provide immediate support.
Funda Emi is an organization based in Guatemala focused on prenatal care, high-risk pregnancies and premature births. They operate a full maternity clinic in a remote village in eastern Guatemala called Santa María Cahabón, which the Foundation For A Better World has supported. Funda Emi employs surgeons, doctors, nurses, educators, nutritionists and a wide array of healthcare workers. As such, they were keenly aware of the incredible strain the COVID-19 pandemic was placing on these workers in Guatemala’s substandard public hospitals.
After speaking with Funda Emi’s leadership and a number of doctors working in Guatemala City’s hospitals, it became abundantly clear that the shortage of PPE in the country was extreme. Doctors and nurses complained publicly about the lack of minimum protective equipment when treating patients with COVID-19. We received reports of minimal safety protocols employed in the hospitals. Shortages of ventilators and hospital beds. Rising numbers of cases. Record numbers of deaths. A real crisis unfolding that was severely underreported and grossly misrepresented by the government.
The team at Funda Emi submitted a proposal to oversee and manage the delivery of PPE and medical equipment to five of the largest public hospitals in the country. We were honored to support them in this endeavor.
Five public hospitals with greatest need:
- Hospital Roosevelt
- Hospital San Juan de Dios
- Hospital de Salud Mental “Dr. Federico Mora”
- Hospital Nacional de Cobán
- Centro de Salud Santa María Cahabón.
Funda Emi held meetings with representatives from each of these hospitals who were overseeing the COVID response to find out what supplies were most needed. In the end, with funds provided by the Foundation For A Better World, Funda Emi was able to purchase and deliver the following items:
We are continuing to actively monitor the situation on the ground in Guatemala. While it can be difficult to get an accurate representation of the true case count in the country, we are confident that through partnerships with organizations such as Funda Emi, we can get a sense of where help is truly needed and step in to support the most vulnerable among us.
Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation – Clinical Trial Fund
Our partnership with the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation has been one of the most meaningful and impactful collaborations in the Foundation For A Better World’s commitment to funding novel research and clinical trials in Alzheimer’s Disease. When the ADDF approached us about their new Clinical Trial Fund, we were eager to learn more.
For the past two decades, the ADDF has been an undeniable leader in the fight against Alzheimer’s. That leadership is evidenced by the fact that approximately 20 percent of all Alzheimer’s treatments currently in clinical trials have received funding from the ADDF. Their “venture philanthropy” approach is driven by ADDF’s founding Executive Director and Chief Science Officer Dr. Howard Fillit, whose scientific vision and acumen guides every ADDF investment.
There is a lot of promising science in our space that doesn’t qualify for support from major pharmaceutical companies. We play the critical role of taking the risk to help fund such research if it shows potential.Dr. Howard Fillit
As such, they have embarked on an initiative to make a difference in this fight.
The goal of the Clinical Trial Fund is to raise $100M in order to:
- provide the capital needed to accelerate promising, clinical-stage science now.
- ensure innovation and diversity in the drug development pipeline.
- improve clinical trial design and rigor across the field.
- attract additional investment needed to quickly advance projects toward FDA approval.
The Clinical Trial Fund aims to cast a wide net to find the missing pieces in Alzheimer’s research using a “multiple shots on goal” approach – exploring a wide range of possible solutions by vigorously vetting the science and providing support. The CTF will carry forward risky but promising research, which just might be the drug that saves lives.
The need for innovative, strategic philanthropic investments in clinical trials is clear. The Foundation For A Better World is thrilled to be sustaining partners of the ADDF’s Clinical Trial Fund.
Focus on Tanzanian Communities – Tanzania
Since its inception in 1997, The Foundation For A Better World has supported the mission of Focus on Tanzanian Communities (FoTZC) to overcome economic and social challenges in Tanzania by partnering with local communities to support education, healthcare, women’s empowerment and other sustainable community development initiatives.
In collaboration with FoTZC, we have supported the construction of over 75 school classrooms, housing for 42 accredited teachers, and four student dormitories with furniture, latrines and laundry facilities. Each year over 10,000 students are educated in FoTZC-built classrooms.
We have also supported numerous FoTZC healthcare projects for villages along the Serengeti. A medical dispensary in the remote area of Sukenya provides basic preventive and curative healthcare to the local population. The medical staff sees over 400 patients a month and has safely delivered more than 700 babies since 2015.
Our partnership with FoTZC helps to bring clean, safe drinking water to thousands of rural Tanzanians. While preventing numerous water-borne diseases, this also helps girls stay in school rather than spending hours each day trekking for water.
The Community Conservation Banking (COCOBA) program provides micro-loans and entrepreneurship training so that women can start their own businesses. Launched in 2015, when only five women had their own businesses, there are now over 300 women-owned businesses.
Many use the income for school supplies and uniforms, and they are able to buy healthier food for their families. Not only does that help them provide for their loved ones, it gives them a voice in their communities.
Focus on Tanzanian Communities plays a major role in providing opportunities and improving the lives of thousands of men, women and children in remote Tanzanian villages.
Rising Star Outreach – India
In the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, many of our partner organizations have stepped up to the meet these new challenges head on. Rising Star Outreach is no exception. India was placed under a mandatory lockdown on March 24th with little notice. This left many of the students and communities that Rising Star serves throughout India without jobs, transportation, food or access to any form of remote learning.
With a realistic expectation that a return to physical in-school learning was many months away, we have partnered with Rising Star Outreach to purchase and deliver high-quality tablets to 74 different colonies so that students can continue their education.
The team at RSO has worked hard and negotiated down the cost of the tablets. They are facilitating all delivery, upkeep and data access and working closely with their school administrators to ensure content creation and curriculum. They already have a new learning platform set up to distribute the lessons and teaching on these devices.
One of the added benefits and silver linings of remote learning on tablets in these communities is that RSO is able to reach and educate far more people than they normally could in a typical in-person school. Many of the adults in these colonies were never educated and are now crowding around the tablets to participate in the lessons with their children. Children who couldn’t afford education or were never offered the opportunity by their families can now join in the lessons as well.
We of course hope that students will soon be able to go back to school. When they do, we hope that some of the lessons learned and the benefits of remote learning can continue to widen the reach of education throughout these colonies in India.
La Reunion – Guatemala
In the wake of the devastating “Volcan De Fuego” eruption in 2018 outside of Guatemala City, the luxury resort, “La Reunion,” which lined the foothills of the volcano, was completely destroyed. Most of the staff were able to evacuate in time, but their homes and villages had been decimated. This was the deadliest volcanic eruption in Guatemala since 1929. The Foundation For A Better World provided immediate financial support to the 76 employees who were without work and without a home. These funds helped them cope during the months in which they lived in shelters, tended to their families and dealt with the grief and confusion.
The Foundation For A Better World also collaborated with Habitat For Humanity to aid in the construction of homes for those whose villages were completely destroyed.
Rotary Club – Guatemala
In collaboration with the Rotary Club of Guatemala, the Foundation For A Better World supported the construction of two bridges in rural Guatemala. These bridges were completely destroyed in the deadly volcanic eruption of the volcano “Fuego” in 2018, leaving entire communities cut off from the outside world.
Ohio State University: Center for Electron Microscopy & Analysis
Making the world a better place is a life goal shared by most. And we can all contribute in ways large and small. Chemical engineering alumnus Tom Claugus and partner Beatriz Illescas Putzeys are going big.
An Ohio native, Tom earned his BS in Chemical Engineering from Ohio State and subsequently obtained his MBA from Harvard Business School. He began his professional life with global specialty chemicals company Rohm and Haas. After 17 years, Tom left the company to establish his own hedge fund, which has consistently been one of the industry’s best performers. Throughout his career, he has constantly sought to support and give back to those most in need, working with organizations and people all over the globe.
In 2012 Tom met Beatriz, who was at that time representing her country as the Consul General of Guatemala in Atlanta. Her years of experience in the field of higher education in Guatemala as well as her deep understanding of the needs of the immigrant population made her an ideal partner for Tom’s philanthropic projects.
After months of discussing possible ways to do so, Tom decided to create a private family-run foundation and selected Beatriz as its president. They launched Foundation for a Better World in 2013.
Based in Atlanta, the Foundation for a Better World supports education at all levels, health and medical research, and humanitarian relief initiatives.
Earlier this year, the foundation awarded a $500,000 grant to Ohio State’s Center for Electron Microscopy and Analysis (CEMAS) to acquire technology that will accelerate life science research.
“One of our main goals is advancing medical research,” said Beatriz. “Through our grant to CEMAS, we will be supporting this goal. And Ohio State is dear to both of us.”
CEMAS recently added cryo-electron microscopy capabilities to their world-class facility on west campus. By overcoming challenges associated with traditional electron microscopy, x-ray diffraction and nuclear magnetic resonance, cryo-EM enables scientists to see how biomolecules move and interact as they perform their functions. The foundation grant enables the addition of micro-electron diffraction (micro-ED) technology, which expands cryo-EM’s reach to very small biomolecules.
CEMAS researchers Hendrik Colijn (front) and Binbing Deng analyze samples with the recently installed cryo-EM equipment“Single particle analysis methods utilized in cryo-EM have to date focused on larger molecules,” said CEMAS Director David McComb. “However, there are many important biological molecules that are considerably smaller. The micro-ED method has been shown to enable the structure of these macromolecules to be studied and determined.”
“This is likely to have a direct impact on drug development in many fields, including those related to Alzheimer’s and other diseases of the central nervous system.”
The funding also supports a post-doctoral researcher to focus on implementing micro-ED and to interact with research faculty throughout the university.
The foundation’s other medical research initiatives include partnerships with the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation and the International Progressive MS Alliance to support world-class research to find cures for both diseases.