SRI gets Defense grant to develop oral-delivered MS drug

The Department of Defense has awarded a one-year grant to SRI International's bioscience division to develop an orally administered multiple sclerosis drug.

The plan is to develop a convenient platform for the more than 2 million people worldwide who suffer from MS, as most available treatments require injections. SRI's prospective drug targets the molecule miR-326, which stimulates the growth of the T-helper 17 cells that lead to MS and other autoimmune diseases, according to the company.

The nonprofit didn't disclose the size of the grant, but SRI scientist Jennifer Lam said the researchers plan to go beyond just crafting a new drug. "Our research is directed toward the development of a novel oral therapeutic as well as a deeper understanding of the mechanisms that contribute to MS," Lam said in a statement.

In the MS world, drugmakers have been working to move past taxing injections for their drugs. Biogen Idec ($BIIB), the world's largest provider of MS drugs, got FDA approval for a once-weekly autoinjected formulation of Avonex in February, and the company is hoping to get BG-12, its oral treatment, on the market in 2013. Sanofi ($SNY) is angling to enter the oral MS market, too, wading through clinical trials for teriflunomide. The only oral treatment on the market is Novartis' ($NVS) Gilenya, but recent safety concerns among regulators could open the door for another firm to seize control of the the MS game.

- read SRI's release