By RADA ROUSE
BRISBANE: A naturally occurring hormone that holds promise for the treatment of auto-immune diseases such as multiple sclerosis will be tested soon at a Brisbane hospital.
Queensland biotechnology company CBio has international rights to develop the hormone, Early Pregnancy Factor, which acts on the immune system.
Royal Brisbane Hospital neurologist Dr Pamela McCombe said yesterday volunteer MS patients would be sought for safety and toxicity trials.
This followed studies in mice which showed that EPF curbed damage to the myelin, a protective sheath around nerve fibres in the spinal cord and brain which is attacked by MS.
"We will be looking for people who are quite sick with MS to volunteer for initial trials, to prove that EPF is safe to put into people," Dr McCombe said.
The trial would also sort out whether oral administration or injection was the best method of delivery of the hormone, but would not be aimed at showing it worked in patients.
It has taken more than 20 years for the scientists who discovered EPF, CBio research directors Halle Morton and Alice Cavanagh, to isolate the hormone and demonstrate its potential.
Dr Cavanagh, who has extensively researched EPF at the University of Queensland, said it was believed to be critical in ensuring that a developing foetus was not rejected by the mother's body.
EPF is produced soon after fertilisation of a human egg, but is also present in white blood cells of men and non-pregnant women, and is believed to be produced by cancer cells to allow them to multiply.
The hormone acts on the CD-4 immune cells, the same cells implicated in auto-immune diseases such as MS and rheumatoid arthritis.
Dr Cavanagh said her findings built on the clinical observation that women suffering from MS went into remission during pregnancy.
Her team had now also developed antibodies to EPF, which might be used in future to develop a treatment for cancer.
As EPF was involved in the body's normal tissue renewal process, it might also have a role in wound healing.
CBio, a public, unlisted company, launched yesterday a prospectus to raise $5 million to synthesise and produce EPF with a view to commercialisation.
Chairman Stephen Jones said the company had acquired the rights to EPF from the University of Queensland's research arm UniQuest, which remained a shareholder.