EBV: is it time to pluck the black swan?

Barts-MS rose-tinted-odometer: ★★★★★
London Gray & Raining #666677 #C4D3DF

SEPSEPIEN a commentator this morning said: “Would have been more rewarding to find a DMT that successfully addresses the causes of MS”. I agree and I really think we have found the cause of MS. It is Epstein Bar Virus (EBV). The epidemiology is pretty convincing that EBV acts in the MS causal pathway and all of our effective i.e. licensed DMTs work on memory B-cell where the latent EBV virus resides. 

The piece on my #1 ECTRIMS-2021 highlight, i.e. the MRI changes in relation to treatment with Atara Bio’s anti-EBNA1 allogeneic CTLs (cytotoxic T-cells), has resulted in at least ten emails from business analysts wanting to speak to me about the product. I think it is my reference to a ‘Black Swan’ that piqued their interest. What they don’t realise is that when you pluck a black swan it looks just like a plucked white swan.

So if Atara Bio gets their product to market they will get pipped by the simple repositioning of the licensed DMTs as anti-EBV agents. What do I mean? 

Rituximab (anti-CD20) is licensed to treat EBV-associated lymphoproliferative disorders. Peripheral EBV viral loads plummet when you administer anti-CD20 therapies. In other words, anti-CD20 therapies are anti-EBV drugs so why would you need to use an expensive cellular therapy? To get into the CNS. Step up the CNS penetrant BTK inhibitors.

Ibrutinib the first licensed BTKi is a potent anti-EBV drug and works very well against EBV-associated lymphomas including CNS lymphomas. EBV in fact uses BTK as a signalling molecule to bypass B-cell receptor-mediated cell cervical signals.  

MD produced a wonderful and very influential review showing all of our DMTs in MS work via memory B-cell reducing their levels in the periphery with the exception of natalizumab that blocks trafficking of memory B-cells into the CNS. 

So all it will take for Big Pharma to pluck Atara Bios black swan is for them to produce data showing how their DMTs impact EBV viral infection in the periphery and potentially in the CNS. The frustrating thing for me is I have been trying to get Pharma to do these studies for decades. Just maybe with a black swan soaring up above they may start to listen. I suspect some of the companies have data on this already.

The good thing that Atara Bio has done is to move EBV centre stage. So maybe now we will get some momentum behind our EBV vaccination study off the ground. 

For those of you who have progressive MS please note how much improvement occurred in the study subject in the Atara Bio phase 1 study. It is almost too good to be true, which is why I referred to it as the Lazarus effect

Plucked Swan | monsieurpolk
A plucked swan; was it a black or white swan?

Baker et al. Memory B Cells are Major Targets for Effective Immunotherapy in Relapsing Multiple Sclerosis. EBioMedicine. 2017 Feb;16:41-50. 

Although multiple sclerosis (MS) is considered to be a CD4, Th17-mediated autoimmune disease, supportive evidence is perhaps circumstantial, often based on animal studies, and is questioned by the perceived failure of CD4-depleting antibodies to control relapsing MS. Therefore, it was interestingly to find that current MS-treatments, believed to act via T cell inhibition, including: beta-interferons, glatiramer acetate, cytostatic agents, dimethyl fumarate, fingolimod, cladribine, daclizumab, rituximab/ocrelizumab physically, or functionally in the case of natalizumab, also depleted CD19+, CD27+ memory B cells. This depletion was substantial and long-term following CD52 and CD20-depletion, and both also induced long-term inhibition of MS with few treatment cycles, indicating induction-therapy activity. Importantly, memory B cells were augmented by B cell activating factor (atacicept) and tumor necrosis factor (infliximab) blockade that are known to worsen MS. This creates a unifying concept centered on memory B cells that is consistent with therapeutic, histopathological and etiological aspects of MS.

Conflicts of Interest

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Preventive Neurology

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General Disclaimer: Please note that the opinions expressed here are those of Professor Giovannoni and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry nor Barts Health NHS Trust and are not meant to be interpreted as personal clinical advice. 

#ECTRIMS2021: EBV as a therapeutic target; another Lazarus effect?

Barts-MS rose-tinted-odometer: ★★★★★★
(6-stars calls for a bright orange Thursday, #FFA500)

As you are aware by now I  am one of the people in the field of MS who thinks EBV is the cause of MS. My position is essentially based on epidemiological evidence and causal inference. At the moment I honestly don’t know how EBV causes MS, but one hypothesis is that ongoing EBV infection in the CNS or in a peripheral compartment drives MS disease activity. EBV resides in memory B-cells and memory B-cell appears to be the main target of all effective MS disease-modifying therapies. 

The question is can we simply treat MS  by targeting EBV and not using a sledgehammer; i.e. depleting all B-cells (anti-CD20) or taking out the memory B-cell with non-selective immune reconstitution therapies (IRTs), e.g. AHSCT or alemtuzumab? One way to do this is to use anti-EBV drugs or cellular therapies targeting EBV infected cells. 

This is why one of my highlights at this meeting is Atara Bio’s phase-1 MRI data on using anti-EBV HLA-matched cytotoxic T-lymphocytes as a treatment for progressive MS. Study subjects who had sustained improvement in the EDSS showed a significant increase or improvement in their brain MTR (magnetization transfer ratio) at 12 months compared to baseline. MTR is an MRI marker of tissue integrity and is thought to represent tissue repair and remyelination. The important point for me is the MTR is an objective measure done using software and is blinded to the clinical information or treatment allocation. Having an objective measure on MRI that correlates with a relatively subjective clinical measure improves my confidence that what we are seeing may be real.

The other remarkable observation in this study is by how much some of the responders in this study improved. EDSS scores improved by well over one EDSS point with one patient improving by as much 2.5 points, i.e. from an EDSS of 5.5 to 3.0. Two other subjects went from EDSS 6.0 to 4.5; from needing a walking stick to walk 100m to be able to walk between 300m and 499m unassisted and without taking a rest. Outside of relapses, these sorts of EDSS improvements don’t happen in people with established progressive MS. This is almost as impressive as the Lazarus effect we see rarely in patients treated with steroids or plasma exchange for a relapse. The Lazarus effect describes those patients who go from EDSS 7.0+ (bed-bound) to getting up and walking within hours to days of being treated. 

Note: Lazarus of Bethany, also known as Saint Lazarus, or Lazarus of the Four Days, venerated in the Eastern Orthodox Church as Righteous Lazarus, the Four-Days Dead, is the subject of a prominent sign of Jesus in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus restores him to life four days after his death (source Wikipedia). 

The following are heat map tables from the poster in the patients who improved and those who didn’t improve. Green being an improvement and red is no improvement. Even in the so-called non-responders, some study subjects improved.  

The good news is Atara’s product is now in phase 2 as part of a blinded study and if it clears this hurdle a large phase 3 programme is planned. Prior to this data emerging my odds of this strategy working in MS would have been way below 50%; actually in the order of 2-5%. Now with objective MTR data correlating with such dramatic clinical improvements, my predictions have soared to now being above 50%, i.e. in the order of 50-67%. 

Pender et al. Updated open-label extension clinical data and new magnetization transfer ratio imaging data from a Phase I study of ATA188, an off-the-shelf, allogeneic Epstein-Barr virus-targeted T-cell immunotherapy for progressive multiple sclerosis. ECTRIMS 2021, P368.

Introduction: Mounting evidence suggests Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a necessary risk factor for development of multiple sclerosis (MS) [Abrahamyan et al. JNNP 2020]. Early experience with autologous EBV-specific T-cell therapy proved safe and may offer clinical benefit [Pender MP et al. JCI Insight 2018; Ioannides ZA et al. Front Neurol 2021].

Objectives/aims: Evaluate the safety and potential efficacy of ATA188 in adults with progressive MS in an ongoing open-label extension (OLE) study, including an imaging biomarker: magnetization transfer ratio (MTR).

Methods: In part 1 of this 2-part Phase I/II study, 4 cohorts received escalating doses of ATA188. Patients (pts) were followed for 1 year and could participate in a 4-year OLE. Sustained disability improvement (SDI; including expanded disability status scale [EDSS] and timed 25-foot walk), as well as safety, were measured [Pender MP et al. EAN 2020]. As a biomarker of improvement, change from baseline in MTR, an exploratory endpoint, was assessed.

Results: 25 pts received ≥1 dose of ATA188 and were followed for up to 33 mos (m). No grade >3 adverse events (AE), dose-limiting toxicities, cytokine release syndrome, graft vs host disease, or infusion-related reactions were observed. 2 treatment-emergent serious AEs were previously reported (muscle spasticity [grade 2; not treatment related]; MS relapse [grade 3; possibly treatment related]) and, as of April 2021, 1 was reported in the OLE (fall; grade 2; not treatment related). Efficacy was evaluated in 24 pts in the initial 12m period and, as of April 2021, in 18 pts in the OLE followed for up to 33m. 9 pts met SDI criteria either in the initial 12m period (n=7) or in the OLE (n=2); of these, 7 had sustained EDSS improvement. Of the 8 pts that achieved SDI and entered the OLE, 7 maintained SDI at all subsequent timepoints. Pts with sustained EDSS improvement (vs those without) had greater increases in MTR signal (in unenhancing T2 lesions and normal-appearing brain tissue) at 12m.

Conclusions: Preliminary data indicate ATA188 is well tolerated. Sustained EDSS improvement drove SDI in most pts, and in all but 1 pt, SDI was maintained at all subsequent timepoints. As a biomarker associated with disability, pts with sustained EDSS improvement (vs those without) showed greater increases in MTR signal at 12m, which may be suggestive of remyelination. The Phase 2 portion of this study, EMBOLD (NCT03283826), is ongoing and currently enrolling.

The following is Atara’s press release if you want more information. 


Please note that I am a consultant to Atara and sit on their EBV/MS advisory board and advise them on their clinical development programme. 

Conflicts of Interest

MS-Selfie Newsletter  /  MS-Selfie Microsite

Preventive Neurology

Twitter   /  LinkedIn  /  Medium

General Disclaimer: Please note that the opinions expressed here are those of Professor Giovannoni and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry nor Barts Health NHS Trust and are not meant to be interpreted as personal clinical advice. 

Curing MS

Barts-MS rose-tinted-odometer: ★★★★★

I have been asked many times if we can cure someone who has MS. I have tried to explain what an MS cure may look like many times on this blog and have actually published articles defending the definition. 

I explained in a previous post that you may be cured of your MS, but still, have worsening or progressive disease. The difference between progressive disease, which is due to previous MS damage and ageing is that the former should burn out, i.e. after a period of time, your worsening disability should eventually stop or flat-line. In comparison, MS-induced premature ageing is unlikely to stop. In comparison defining a cure in people who are young, with reserve capacity, who have been treated earlier is a much easier task. 

From a biological perspective you can be cured but still have neurological deficits from previous damage, which need to be targeted with so-called ‘repair’ and ‘neuroregenerative’ therapies. These are separate processes and are independent of a so-called biological cure. 

Based on our current understanding of MS a cure can only really occur in relation to IRTs (immune reconstitution therapies; e.g. alemtuzumab, cladribine & HSCT), i.e. treatments that are given as short courses that address the underlying ‘cause’ of MS. Maintenance treatments that need to be given continuously can’t cure MS, because when you stop the treatment MS disease activity tends to return and in some cases, particularly with anti-trafficking agents (natalizumab and fingolimod), to a greater extent than before, which we call MS rebound.

For arguments sake let’s say we have treated a group of pwMS early in the course of their disease with an IRT and they have gone into long-term remission with no evident disease activity (NEDA). How long should we wait before declaring a victory over their MS; 10, 15, 20 or 25 years? In the past, we have proposed defining a cure as NEDA at 15 years post-treatment as a starting point (see our MSARD Editorial below). Why 15 years? This is the most commonly accepted time-point used for defining benign MS and therefore it is a standard end-point that could potentially be accepted by the wider MS community. However, this may be wishful thinking many in the field are saying that we can’t cure MS, therefore, we should not even be having this discussion. Do you agree? 

The average time to the onset of secondary progressive MS is ~14-15 years so one would expect to see a significant proportion of people manifesting with SPMS in this 15-year timeframe. If we have gotten the autoimmune hypothesis wrong and IRTs don’t work then I would estimate at least a third of treated subjects should have SPMS at 15 years. The problem with 15 years is that it is a long wait if you have MS. Many pwMS want to know ‘now’ if an IRT offers a cure, therefore we need data to convince the naysayers to support the ‘cure hypothesis’. Hopefully, convincing data, such as the HSCT data below, will change their minds and get them to at least offer IRTs to more of their patients.

In the past, I have proposed a deep phenotyping project to look at pwMS who are NEDA-2 post-IRT to see if we can find any evidence of ongoing inflammatory, or neurodegenerative, MS disease activity. I proposed interrogating them in detail and comparing them to a similar cohort of pwMS who are being treated with maintenance DMTs. Deep phenotyping is simply a term that refers to the interrogation of the CNS to see if the IRT has stopped ongoing damage and protected reserve capacity.

The study that has come closest to reaching this 15-year time point is the Canadian myeloablative HSCT cohort (see below). Mark Freedman, the principal investigator, has told me that all of these patients remain NEDA-2 (no relapses or MRI activity) although some have worsened in relation to their disability, which may be a result of previous damage and not ongoing MS disease activity. However, the most impressive observation is that this cohort of patients, who all had very active MS prior to HSCT, has ‘normalised’ their rate of brain volume loss or atrophy after an initial precipitous drop in brain volume due to pseudoatrophy and/or chemotherapy-induced neurotoxicity. Mark Freedman has also said that about a third of these patients, who have had lumbar punctures, have lost their OCBs (personal communication). However, the spinal fluid analyses have all been done quite early after HSCT hence we don’t know how many subjects who have reached 10 years of follow-up or more have persistent OCBs. Wouldn’t this be an interesting fact to know?

When the 10-year lumbar puncture and spinal fluid analysis was done in a group of Polish subjects treated with intravenous cladribine, 50% had lost their spinal fluid oligoclonal IgG bands (OCBs) at 10 years and this group of OCB-negative patients tended to have stable disease compared to those who hadn’t lost their OCBs. This is why we are doing the SIZOMUS (Ixazomib) and the DODO (high-dose ocrelizumab) studies to try and scrub the CNS clean of pathogenic B-cells and plasma cells that may be driving low-grade smouldering MS. Exciting? You bet! These two studies are one of the reasons I get up in the morning, look at myself in the mirror and say nobody can say Barts-MS isn’t doing innovative MS research. 

The question I am now asking myself is switching a definition of a cure to a biological one a better strategy? This is a new line of thinking that has been brewing in my head for the last 12 months or so. If EBV is the cause of MS can we simply put pwMS into remission and clear them of EBV? This is why I want to do the iTeri and similar studies, i.e. to give an IRT and follow it with a drug that prevents EBV reactivation (antiviral) or scrubs B-cells of EBV (EBNA-1 antagonists). 

I am sure many cynics will be saying no not Prof G thinking aloud. Yes, I am thinking aloud. If only a minority of pwMS treated with IRTs go into long-term remission why can we increase the proportion by using the induction-maintenance approach that targets the cause of MS? What do you think?

If you agree with this strategy I am going to need help to get the iTeri concept study funded.  


Banwell et al. Editors’ welcome and a working definition for a multiple sclerosis cure. Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders. 2013; 2(2):65-67.

…. Defining a cure in MS is a difficult task. How long should we wait before declaring a victory; 15, 20 or 25 years? Oncologists have back-tracked on this issue and instead of a cure they now prefer to use the term NEDD, or no evidence of detectable disease, at a specific time-point knowing full well that a limited number of subjects will relapse and present with recurrent disease after this point. We propose using the term NEDA, or no evident disease-activity, at 15 years as a starting point for defining a cure. Why 15 years? This is the most commonly accepted time-point used for defining benign MS and therefore it is a usual endpoint. In addition, the median time to the onset of secondary progressive MS is ~10-11 years (Kremenchutzky, Rice et al. 2006) and is well within the 15-year time window of our proposed definition of a cure. At present NEDA is defined using a composite of a) no relapses, or b) no EDSS progression, or c) no MRI activity (new or enlarging T2 lesions or no Gd-enhancing lesions) (Havrdova, Galetta et al. 2009; Giovannoni, Cook et al. 2011). This description is currently based on data that is routinely collected in contemporary clinical trials (Havrdova, Galetta et al. 2009; Giovannoni, Cook et al. 2011). The definition of NEDA will evolve with technological innovations and clinical practice, and in the future, it will almost certainly include MSer-related outcomes, grey matter disease activity, an index of brain atrophy and hopefully a CSF biomarker profile…..


Giovannoni, G., S. Cook, et al. (2011). “Sustained disease-activity-free status in patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis treated with cladribine tablets in the CLARITY study: a post-hoc and subgroup analysis.” Lancet Neurol 10(4): 329-337.

Havrdova, E., S. Galetta, et al. (2009). “Effect of natalizumab on clinical and radiological disease activity in multiple sclerosis: a retrospective analysis of the Natalizumab Safety and Efficacy in Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (AFFIRM) study.” Lancet Neurol 8(3): 254-260

Kremenchutzky, M., G. P. Rice, et al. (2006). “The natural history of multiple sclerosis: a geographically based study 9: observations on the progressive phase of the disease.” Brain 129(Pt 3): 584-594.


Atkins et al. Immunoablation and autologous haemopoietic stem-cell transplantation for aggressive multiple sclerosis: a multicentre single-group phase 2 trial. Lancet. 2016 Aug 6;388(10044):576-85. 

BACKGROUND: Strong immunosuppression, including chemotherapy and immune-depleting antibodies followed by autologous haemopoietic stem-cell transplantation (aHSCT), has been used to treat patients with multiple sclerosis, improving control of relapsing disease. We addressed whether near-complete immunoablation followed by immune cell depleted aHSCT would result in long-term control of multiple sclerosis.

METHODS: We did this phase 2 single-arm trial at three hospitals in Canada. We enrolled patients with multiple sclerosis, aged 18-50 years with poor prognosis, ongoing disease activity, and an Expanded Disability Status Scale of 3.0-6.0. Autologous CD34 selected haemopoietic stem-cell grafts were collected after mobilisation with cyclophosphamide and filgrastim. Immunoablation with busulfan, cyclophosphamide, and rabbit anti-thymocyte globulin was followed by aHSCT. The primary outcome was multiple sclerosis activity-free survival (events were clinical relapse, appearance of a new or Gd-enhancing lesion on MRI, and sustained progression of Expanded Disability Status Scale score). This study was registered at ClinicalTrials.gov, NCT01099930.

FINDINGS: Between diagnosis and aHSCT, 24 patients had 167 clinical relapses over 140 patient-years with 188 Gd-enhancing lesions on 48 pre-aHSCT MRI scans. Median follow-up was 6.7 years (range 3.9-12.7). The primary outcome, multiple sclerosis activity-free survival at 3 years after transplantation was 69.6% (95% CI 46.6-84.2). With up to 13 years of follow-up after aHSCT, no relapses occurred and no GdGd-enhancing lesions or new T2 lesions were seen on 314 MRI sequential scans. The rate of brain atrophy decreased to that expected for healthy controls. One of 24 patients died of transplantation-related complications. 35% of patients had a sustained improvement in their Expanded Disability Status Scale score.

INTERPRETATION: We describe the first treatment to fully halt all detectable CNS inflammatory activity in patients with multiple sclerosis for a prolonged period in the absence of any ongoing disease-modifying drugs. Furthermore, many of the patients had substantial recovery of neurological function despite their disease’s aggressive nature.


Rejdak et al. Cladribine induces long lasting oligoclonal bands disappearance in relapsing multiple sclerosis patients: 10-year observational study. Mult Scler Relat Disord. 2019 Jan;27:117-120. 

Background: There has been long-term interest in cladribine as a drug for the treatment of MS. The current study focused on the effect of cladribine on oligoclonal bands (OCB) expression in the CSF in relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) patients observed over 10 years.

Methods: 29 treatment-naive subjects with RRMS were prospectively enrolled and received induction therapy with subcutaneous parenteral cladribine (at a cumulative dose of 1.8 mg/kg; divided into 6 courses every 5 weeks given for 4-6 days, depending on patients’ body weight). Selected patients received maintenance doses in the follow-up period.

Results: Isoelectric focusing revealed that 55% of patients did not have OCB in CSF after cladribine treatment as compared to baseline testing when 100% of patients were positive for OCB. There were no significant differences in Expanded Disability Status Scale scores at baseline and at the end of treatment cycle between OCB-positive vs. OCB-negative subgroups. At the last follow-up, OCB-negative patients had lower disability compared to OCB-positive patients (p = 0.03).

Conclusion: Cladribine-induced immune reconstitution leads to long lasting suppression of intrathecal humoral response, which might be an additional mechanism that enhances the therapeutic effect on disease progression in RRMS patients.

Conflicts of Interest

Preventive Neurology




General Disclaimer: Please note that the opinions expressed here are those of Professor Giovannoni and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry nor Barts Health NHS Trust. 

On being EBV-negative and having MS

Barts-MS rose-tinted-odometer: ★★★★★

I have been diagnosed with MS and I am Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) negative. Therefore, EBV is not the cause of MS. Correct? I wish it was that simple. 

Firstly, no laboratory test is 100% sensitive and specific. In other words, some people who have negative standard EBV serology may still have the virus, i.e. a false negative result, and some people who have a positive result may not have the virus a so-called false-positive result. A very sensitive assay is one that limits the number of false-negative results, i.e. gets the result correct almost all the time. A very specific assay limits the number of false-positive results and excludes those with infection or disease. Do these terms give you a sense of deja vu? The COVID-19 lab tests have made them part of the public lexicon. 

In this study below we checked out two commercial EBV serology assays and as expected they were not perfect. So yes you can be EBV-antibody negative and still have EBV.

Dobson et al. Comparison of two commercial ELISA systems for evaluating anti-EBNA1 IgG titers. J Med Virol. 2013 Jan;85(1):128-31.

High IgG titers against the Epstein-Barr virus nuclear antigen, EBNA-1, have been strongly correlated with the risk of developing multiple sclerosis. ELISAs are used frequently to measure EBNA-1 titers, however concerns remain regarding the accuracy of results. Ordering absolute results into rank quintiles for analysis may be preferable. Using 120 serum samples, two commercially available ELISAs (produced by DiaSorin and VirionSerion) were compared, both in terms of absolute results and rank quintiles. The positive predictive value of the VirionSerion ELISA was 99.1% when compared to the DiaSorin ELISA, however, the negative predictive value was 64.3%. Sensitivity and specificity were acceptable at 95.5% and 90.0%, respectively. There was poor correlation between absolute results, R(2) = 0.49; and the kappa coefficient for rank quintiles was low at 0.23. Although sensitivity and specificity appear adequate, the poor negative predictive value and kappa coefficient are of major concern. Care must be taken when selecting assays for experimental use.

In a meta-analysis of EBV and MS, we showed that when you use the immunofluorescence assay, which although being very labour intensive is considered the gold standard for diagnosing MS 100% of pwMS were EBV-positive. Interesting? Then on the flip side being EBV immunofluorescence negative was the most powerful predictor of not getting MS. These and other findings are part of the evidence that convinced me decades ago that EBV is the cause of MS. 

Pakpoor et al. The risk of developing multiple sclerosis in individuals seronegative for Epstein-Barr virus: a meta-analysis. Mult Scler. 2013 Feb;19(2):162-6. 

Background: Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection is widely considered to be a risk factor for multiple sclerosis (MS). A previous meta-analysis estimated an odds ratio (OR) for MS in individuals seronegative for EBV of 0.06. Given the potential importance of this finding, we aimed to establish a more precise OR for adult and paediatric onset MS in EBV seronegative individuals.

Methods: PubMed and EMBASE searches were undertaken to identify studies investigating the association between MS and EBV. Twenty-two adult and three paediatric studies were included. ORs were calculated using a fixed effects model. A sub-group analysis based on the method of EBV detection was performed.

Results: The OR for developing adult MS in EBV seronegatives was 0.18 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.13-0.26)) and for paediatric MS was 0.18 (95% CI 0.11-0.30). Sub-group analysis on EBV detection method showed that studies which used immunofluoresence generated an OR=0.07 (95% CI 0.03-0.16); for those that used enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) OR=0.33 (95% CI 0.22-0.50) and for studies which used ELISA and immunofluoresence OR=0.00 (95% CI 0-0.43).

Conclusion: The sensitivity and specificity of the assay used to measure EBV antibody titres have an influence on the association between MS and EBV. Looking at studies where two independent methods are used and therefore are likely to be the most robust, EBV appears to be present in 100% of MS patients. This has implications for future studies of EBV in MS. MS patients without EBV infection, if they truly exist, should be studied in more detail.

Now, what about the diagnosis of MS? 

In the study below approximately 1 in 5 people diagnosed with MS don’t have MS. This figure is much higher than in previous studies. I usually quote a large Danish post-mortem study that suggests only 1 in 20 people with MS (pwMS) are misdiagnosed. It is important to realise that there is no one test that can be done to diagnose MS. MS is diagnosed by combining a set of clinical and MRI findings, electric or neurophysiological investigations and laboratory tests. If these tests fulfil a set of so-called MS diagnostic criteria the Healthcare professional (HCP) or neurologist makes a diagnosis of MS.

The underlying principle of making a diagnosis of MS is showing dissemination of lesions in space and time and excluding other possible diagnoses that can mimic MS. The diagnostic criteria have evolved over time from being based purely on clinical finding to the more recent criteria that include evoked potentials, spinal fluid analysis and MRI to help confirm dissemination in time and space.

Dissemination in time means two attacks or MS lesions occurring at least 30 days apart. Dissemination in space means lesions occurring in different locations, for example, the optic nerve and spinal cord.

The electrical or neurophysiological tests are called evoked potential (EPs) and test electrical conduction in a particular neuronal pathway. They can be useful to show the effects of lesions in pathways that are not evident on neurological examination or seen on MRI. The EPs can also show slow electrical conduction which is one of the hallmarks of diseases that affect myelin, the insulation of nerves that are responsible for speeding up electrical conduction.

The laboratory tests are typically done to exclude other diseases that can mimic MS. One test that is useful in helping to make the diagnosis of MS is examining the spinal fluid for the presence of oligoclonal immunoglobulin G or IgG bands (OCBs), which are the fingerprint of a specific type of immune activation within the central nervous system (CNS). 

The OCB fingerprint is relatively specific for the diagnosis of MS in the correct clinical context. Please note OCBs can are found in infections of the nervous system and other autoimmune diseases, therefore, the presence of OCBs are not diagnostic on their own.

Please note being EBV seropositive is currently not part of the diagnosis of MS so you can be diagnosed with MS and still be EBV-negative. What we don’t know is whether or not EBV-negative MS is biological MS, i.e. the same disease as EBV-positive MS. This is something I have been wanting to study for a long time. 

I have spent some time explaining this all to you as we neurologists get the diagnosis wrong approximately 5% of the time and if this paper below is correct maybe in even a higher number of patients. In other words, at least 1 in 20 people who have a diagnosis of MS in life don’t have MS when their brains are studied at postmortem.

Why is getting the correct diagnosis of MS so important? Firstly, some of the treatments for MS have life-threatening complications; you don’t want to expose people without MS to these complications. Some diseases that mimic MS can be made worse by MS DMTs. This latter is particularly relevant for NMO or neuromyelitis optic. Patients with NMO misdiagnosed as having MS get worse on many of the MS DMTs. Finally, a diagnosis of MS has many psychological, social, financial and economic implications for people. Just having a diagnosis of MS, even if you turn out to have benign MS in the future, has implications for the person concerned. For example, it may affect your life choices and may impact your ability to get insurance cover to name to obvious examples. I would, therefore, advise you to make sure you have MS and not an MS mimic. 

The most common MS mimics:

  1. Cerebrovascular disease
  2. Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis or ADEM
  3. Neuromyelitis optica or NMO
  4. Behcet’s syndrome
  5. Migraine
  6. Sarcoidosis
  7. SLE or systemic lupus erythematosus
  8. Antiphospholipid antibody syndrome
  9. Leukodystrophies

The evolving definition of MS based on diagnostic criteria:

Clinical criteria only:

  1. Schumacher, et al. Problems of Experimental Trials of Therapy in Multiple Sclerosis: Report by the Panel on the Evaluation of Experimental Trials of Therapy in Multiple Sclerosis. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1965;122:552-68.

Clinical, EPs and CSF analysis:

  1. Poser, et al. New diagnostic criteria for multiple sclerosis: guidelines for research protocols. Ann Neurol 1983;13:227-31.

Clinical, EPs, CSF analysis and MRI:

  1. McDonald, et al. Recommended diagnostic criteria for multiple sclerosis: guidelines from the International Panel on the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Ann Neurol 2001;50:121-7.
  2. Polman, et al. Diagnostic criteria for multiple sclerosis: 2005 revisions to the “McDonald Criteria”. Ann Neurol 2005;58:840-6.
  3. Polman, et al. Diagnostic criteria for multiple sclerosis: 2010 revisions to the McDonald criteria. Ann Neurol. 2011;69:292-302.
  4. Thompson et al. Diagnosis of multiple sclerosis: 2017 revisions of the McDonald criteria. Lancet Neurol. 2018 Feb;17(2):162-173.

What the evolving definition of MS tells us is that the diagnosis and hence the disease MS as we currently define it is a moving target. In other words, someone 10 years ago who do not fulfil the diagnosis of MS, i.e. didn’t have the disease, maybe diagnosed today as having MS. How can this be? This is why I would prefer to use a biological definition of MS. Yes, I am currently working on a paper that sets out the principles for redefining MS as a biological disease.

So what then do I do at the moment if I have MS and I am EBV negative? Until we prove EBV is the cause of MS and include EBV in the diagnosis I don’t think knowing if you are EBV positive or negative makes any difference to the diagnosis of MS and its management.

However, I would like to challenge the status quo. Can we really continue to ignore the evidence linking EBV to MS? Don’t we owe it the next generation of pwMS to act on this information ASAP? Is anyone prepared to donate several million dollars to a consortium to EBV treatment and prevention trials in MS, i.e. the Charcot Project

Kaisey et al. Incidence of multiple sclerosis misdiagnosis in referrals to two academic centers. Mult Scler Relat Disord. 2019 May;30:51-56.

BACKGROUND: Multiple Sclerosis (MS) specialists routinely evaluate misdiagnosed patients, or patients incorrectly assigned a diagnosis of MS. Misdiagnosis has significant implications for patient morbidity and healthcare costs, yet its contemporary incidence is unknown. We examined the incidence of MS misdiagnosis in new patients referred to two academic MS referral centers, their most common alternate diagnoses, and factors associated with misdiagnosis.

METHODS: Demographic data, comorbidities, neurological examination findings, radiographic and laboratory results, a determination of 2010 McDonald Criteria fulfillment, and final diagnoses were collected from all new patient evaluations completed at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the University of California, Los Angeles MS clinics over twelve months.

RESULTS: Of the 241 new patients referred with an established diagnosis of MS, 17% at Cedars-Sinai and 19% at UCLA were identified as having been misdiagnosed. The most common alternative diagnoses were migraine (16%), radiologically isolated syndrome (9%), spondylopathy (7%), and neuropathy (7%). Clinical syndromes and radiographic findings atypical for MS were both associated with misdiagnosis. The misdiagnosed group received approximately 110 patient-years of unnecessary MS disease-modifying therapy.

CONCLUSION: MS misdiagnosis is common; in our combined cohort, almost 1 in 5 patients who carried an established diagnosis of MS did not fulfill contemporary McDonald Criteria and had a more likely alternate diagnosis.

CoI: multiple

Twitter: @gavinGiovannoni                                              Medium: @gavin_24211

Eight Swallows

Barts-MS rose-tinted-odometer: ★★★★★

How many swallows make a summer? Is eight enough? 

If MS is caused by EBV you would expect there to be clusters of MS potentially linked to a specific subtype of the virus. The best-studied MS cluster is the one from Fjelsø, a small village of 74 families in rural Denmark, where eight people closely linked to each other all developed MS within 13 years of each other. All the subjects had attended the same school. Interestingly all of the people who developed MS had attended the scouts together. 

Danish investigators then typed the variant of EBV these subjects had been infected with and to their surprise, they all had the same subtype of EBV, which importantly was different from controls that were selected from schoolmates and family members. This raises the question of being a scout in Denmark resulted in the transmission of EBV between these subjects. None of these eight subjects reported having had infectious mononucleosis.

What are the chances of getting an eight-person cluster of MS from a group of scouts in a tiny rural village in Denmark? Then on top of this what are the chances of all eight of these people with MS having the same EBV subtype when their family members and schoolmates did not? I suspect the chances are very low.

I don’t think eight swallows are enough to make a summer, but you can’t ignore this cluster when all the other epidemiological evidence points to EBV being causally linked to MS.

The two linked studies below are just a small piece of a large jigsaw puzzle that is gradually being built that I predict will eventually prove EBV is the cause of MS. In the centre of this large jigsaw puzzle are the bespoke pieces for the EBV antiviral and vaccine studies. 

Haahr et al. Cluster of multiple sclerosis patients from Danish community. Lancet. 1997 Mar 29;349(9056):923.

Cluster: We report a cluster of MS in which eight people with verified MS originated from a small Danish community called Fjelsø. All eight had lived within a 2.75 km2 area (2.5 km×1.1 km), where 74 single-family houses, including some farms, were located. The community had a stable population with few migrations into and out of the area. During a 13-year period, all the patients had for 7 years attended the same elementary school with 70-80 pupils. The school had 145 pupils during this period. All those who developed MS had been scouts together, with the older ones being scoutmasters for the younger ones and some of the older ones had also looked after the younger ones. Two cases were siblings and two were aunt and nephew, but MS had not been observed in any of the ancestors of the eight cases or among the school teachers. All cases of MS developed, at various ages and with variable courses, after the eight had left Fjelsø. None of the eight could recall symptoms of infectious mononucleosis.

Munch et al. A single subtype of Epstein-Barr virus in members of multiple sclerosis clusters. Acta Neurol Scand. 1998 Dec;98(6):395-9.

Objectives: Epidemiological studies strongly indicate an infectious involvement in multiple sclerosis (MS). Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), to which all multiple sclerosis patients are seropositive, is also interesting from an epidemiological point of view. We have reported a cluster of MS patients with 8 members from a small Danish community called Fjelsø. To further evaluate the role of EBV in MS we have investigated the distribution of EBV subtypes in cluster members and in control cohorts.

Materials and methods: Blood mononuclear cells were isolated from cluster members, unrelated MS patients, healthy controls, including healthy schoolmates to the Fjelsø cluster patients and finally from persons with autoimmune diseases in order to investigate the number of 39 bp repeats in the EBNA 6-coding region in the EBV seropositive individuals.

Results: We observed a preponderance of the subtype with 3 39 bp repeats in the EBNA 6-coding region both in the MS patients and the healthy controls. In the Fjelsø cluster, all 8 cluster members were harbouring this subtype, which is significantly different from the finding in healthy controls (n = 16), which include 8 schoolmates to the cluster members and 8 randomly selected healthy persons (Fischer’s exact test P = 0.0047), and also compared to all non-clustered individuals studied (P = 0.017).

Conclusion: Infection with the same subtype of EBV links together the 8 persons from the Fjelsø cluster who later developed MS. This finding adds to the possibility that the development of MS is linked to infection with EBV.

CoI: multiple

Twitter: @gavinGiovannoni                                              Medium: @gavin_24211

What is the most exciting MS research on the horizon?

I was asked about which paper I have written or co-written that has or will have the most impact in the field of MS. There is little doubt that it is our report of our 2017 workshop on “EBV Infection and MS Prevention”.

This report (see below) was the catalyst for creating the Preventive Neurology Unit (PNU), which is embedded in the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine. The funding for the PNU allowed us to employ Dr Ruth Dobson to be the academic lead on the MS Prevention workstream in the PNU. All we need now is a sterilising vaccine against EBV, the necessary funding so that we can set-up an international anti-EBV MS Prevention study and support from the public to do this study. Once we have all these in place we will be a position to finally test the hypothesis that EBV is the cause of MS. There is nothing in the field of MS research that excites me more than testing this hypothesis. Do agree? What excites you? Any other recommendations?

Virus, virus where art thou hiding?

Barts-MS rose-tinted-odometer: ★★★★★★★★★★

Would you volunteer to participate in a clinical trial of an antiviral drug cocktail to suppress MS disease activity, in particular smouldering MS?

There is reasonable evidence in the literature that HERVs (human endogenous retroviruses) may play a role in autoimmunity, in particular MS. HERVs are viruses (genetic code) that have been incorporated into the human genome over deep time. Some HERV genetic elements have taken on important functional roles, for example, they are involved in the development of the mammalian placenta and hence are part of our human biology. 

When HERVs elements are transcribed they may be capable of forming replication-competent viruses, which can reinfect cells and integrate back into the genome. These reintegration sites may be important in themselves and may drive the selection of cells with enhanced functions and may also result in cancer. Other HERV elements are replication-incompetent and although they can produce functional transcripts can’t form an infectious virus. 

Some HERV proteins act as danger signals activating so-called toll-like receptors and other danger-signalling pathways. These pathways then upregulate innate immunity and provide the immunological nudge that drives autoimmunity. This is why there have been some attempts to try and suppress HERV activation with antiviral drugs or to neutralise some of the HERV proteins that may activate the immune system, or are directly toxic to myelin-producing cells and/or neurones, as a treatment for MS. 

These HERV-related hypotheses are supported by several studies showing upregulation of HERVs transcripts and HERV proteins in the brains of people with MS. The study below uses a new technology called next-generation RNA sequencing to show that some HERV-W (a specific type of HERV) transcripts are exclusively present in MS brains and as they are located on chromosome 7 close to one of the MS genetic risk loci may be relevant to MS. Could this finding be part of the proof we need to show that HERV-W may be in the causal pathway that leads to the development of MS? Importantly, HERV transcripts (RNA message) close to the MS risk locus on chromosome 7 were overrepresented in MS brains. 

Although some would interpret these findings as being potentially causal, i.e. HERV transactivation and expression is driving the pathology that is MS, another interpretation is that whatever causes MS transactivates HERVs, which is then simply a bystander phenomenon. The only way to separate ‘causation’ from ‘association’ is to do an experiment to suppress HERV transactivation to see if it improves MS outcomes. This is a conclusion that Prof. Julian Gold and I came to several years ago and is why we have been trying to get funding to do a CNS penetrant combination antiretroviral trial in MS.

Some of the cynics will ask ‘well what about your EBV hypothesis’? Interestingly, EBV and some of the other herpes viruses are potent transactivators of HERVs, i.e. infection with EBV wakes-up HERVs in our genome and results in their transcription. Therefore, increased HERVs may be a marker of EBV infection. This may be important, but recent data indicates that some HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapies) components are also effective against EBV. Therefore, clinical trials of HAART may actually target both EBV and HERVs. This is why I am so excited about the news that a small HAART trial in MS will be starting soon in the US.  However, Prof. Julian Gold and I, as part of our Charcot Project, will still continue to prod and encourage big Pharma companies (ViiV-GSK, Gilead, Merck, etc.) with a footprint in the antiretroviral space, to come to the table with their products (HAART) and money to fund a large adequately powered study to test the hypothesis in a definitive MS study. 

It would be a travesty if in 20 years time the next generation of MS researchers discover that HAART is a very effective treatment for MS when we have the tools to answer this question now, i.e. in the next 4 to 5 years? In fact, we have a clue that this may be the case already. Having HIV infection protects one from getting MS. This may be due to the therapy (HAART) that is used to treat HIV and not due to the HIV virus itself. 

As you know outside-the-box ideas or paradigm shifts often take generations to occur. So you shouldn’t be surprised if the MS community continues to reject these hypotheses and nothing happens for decades.   

Maria L Elkjaer et  al. Unbiased examination of genome-wide human endogenous retrovirus transcripts in MS brain lesions. Mult Scler. 2021 Jan 19;1352458520987269. doi: 10.1177/1352458520987269. 

Background: Human endogenous retrovirus (HERV) expression in multiple sclerosis (MS) brain lesions may contribute to chronic inflammation, but the expression of genome-wide HERVs in different MS lesions is unknown.

Objective: We examined the HERV expression landscape in different MS lesions compared to control brains.

Methods: Transcripts from 71 MS brain samples and 25 control WM were obtained by C and mapped against HERV transcripts across the human genome. Differential expression of mapped HERV-W and HERV-H reads between MS lesion types and controls was analysed.

Results: Out of 6.38 billion high-quality paired-end reads, 174 million reads (2.73%) mapped to HERV transcripts. There was no difference in HERVs expression level between MS and control brains, but HERV-W transcripts were significantly reduced in chronic active lesions. Of the four HERV-W transcripts exclusively present in MS, ERV3633503 located on chromosome 7q21.13 close to the MS genetic risk locus had the highest number of reads. In the HERV-H family, 75% of transcripts located to nearby 7q21-22 were overrepresented in MS, and ERV3643914 was expressed more than 16 times in MS compared to control brains. 

Conclusion: Novel HERV-W and HERV-H transcripts located at chromosome 7 regions were uniquely expressed in MS lesions, indicating their potential role in brain lesion evolution.

CoI: multiple

Twitter: @gavinGiovannoni                                    Medium: @gavin_24211

#BlackSwan: anecdotal evidence we can’t ignore

Barts-MS rose-tinted-odometer: ★★★★★

What is a black swan event? 

“The black swan theory or theory of black swan events is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalised after the fact with the benefit of hindsight”. (Source Wikipedia)

The case study below is another example of a mounting number of case studies of patients with MS being treated with antivirals, with activity against EBV, doing well. We now need to do properly powered randomised controlled trials to test the EBV causation of MS hypothesis definitively. 

Prof. Julian Gold and I launched the Charcot Project in 2012 to investigate the viral aeitology of MS. We tried on numerous occasions to get trials funded to test this hypothesis and have failed. We managed to test one anti-retroviral in a small proof-of-concept study, which was negative. Since then we have managed to get funding to see if famciclovir is capable of suppressing EBV shedding in the saliva. This study should have been completed by now, but we had to delay its start because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We have also managed to show that teriflunomide is anti-EBV in that it reduces EBV viral shedding in the saliva of people with MS. I suspect this is a very relevant an important observation and underpins the iTeri study, i.e. to use a B-cell depleting agent as induction therapy and teriflunomide or related compound as a maintenance therapy to prevent EBV reinfecting B-cells during the B-cell reconstitution phase. 

Life is short and I started working on EBV as a cause of MS way back in 2005 and feel like I am treading water. The evidence that EBV is the cause of MS is so overwhelming that we really can’t afford to ignore it any longer. What we need is a substantial investment from the major funding agencies, MS charities, wealthy philanthropists and Pharmaceutical companies with antiviral drugs in their portfolio to prove (or disprove) that EBV is the cause of MS. 

When you apply Bradford-Hill’s causation theory to EBV being the cause of MS  there is only one criterion out of nine that still needs to be ticked and that is experimental evidence. What we need are therapeutic interventional trials targeting EBV to complete the proof. 

Torkildsen et al. Tenofovir as a treatment option for multiple sclerosis. Mult Scler Relat Disord 2020 Oct 7;46:102569. doi: 10.1016/j.msard.2020.102569.

Some antiretroviral medications are also inhibitors of EBV. We describe a patient with highly active MS who was infected with HIV and started HIV-treatment containing tenofovir alafenamide (TAF), a potent inhibitor of EBV lytic reactivation. Her MS was in complete remission during this treatment, and she had new radiological disease activity again after switching to tenofovir disoproxil fumarate, an HIV drug with less potent activity against EBV replication. Based on the recently detected mechanism of TDF and TAF, we suggest that further studies on these drugs in MS are warranted.

CoI: multiple

Twitter: @gavinGiovannoni  Medium: @gavin_24211

#MSCOVID19 info wars

It is one thing calling for scientists to turbocharge the development of a coronavirus vaccine but quite another to get the population to have the vaccine. The anti-vaxxers are organising rapidly and have started circulating content with false information to achieve their aims. The movie plandemic is one example and is covered in a very good article in the New York Times today.  

The primary reason I started this blog was to counteract anti-science movements and to provide people with MS and their families a rational interpretation of MS-related research. It is interesting to note that there is now good data science to show how anti-science movements, despite having very few initial supporters, get their message across and sow enough confusion to get undecided people to support their movement. 

What I find fascinating, albeit scary, is how dynamic and multifaceted the anti-vaccination campaigns are, which explains their explosive growth in recent times (see figure and paper below). It also shows how gullible people are in general. The study below highlights why we scientists need to fight back using the same tactics. Simply sitting in our ivory towers using traditional media and unidirectional channels will not be good enough to fight the anti-vaccination and other anti-science movements. 

I have a vested interest in this. One of our lines of research is to use an anti-EBV vaccine to prevent MS. If people don’t want vaccines how are we going to get this prevention strategy adopted by funders, ethics committees and more importantly the general population? 

Can you help? Yes, please help fight fake news, by reporting it and calling it out for what it is. And don’t believe the fabricated conspiracy theories that are peddled to support these anti-science movements. The vast majority of conspiracy theories are wrong.

Image from Johnson et al. The online competition between pro- and anti-vaccination views. Nature published: 13 May 2020.

Johnson et al. The online competition between pro- and anti-vaccination views. Nature published: 13 May 2020

Distrust in scientific expertise is dangerous. Opposition to vaccination with a future vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the causal agent of COVID-19, for example, could amplify outbreaks, as happened for measles in 2019. Homemade remedies and falsehoods are being shared widely on the Internet, as well as dismissals of expert advice. There is a lack of understanding about how this distrust evolves at the system level. Here we provide a map of the contention surrounding vaccines that has emerged from the global pool of around three billion Facebook users. Its core reveals a multi-sided landscape of unprecedented intricacy that involves nearly 100 million individuals partitioned into highly dynamic, interconnected clusters across cities, countries, continents and languages. Although smaller in overall size, anti-vaccination clusters manage to become highly entangled with undecided clusters in the main online network, whereas pro-vaccination clusters are more peripheral. Our theoretical framework reproduces the recent explosive growth in anti-vaccination views, and predicts that these views will dominate in a decade. Insights provided by this framework can inform new policies and approaches to interrupt this shift to negative views. Our results challenge the conventional thinking about undecided individuals in issues of contention surrounding health, shed light on other issues of contention such as climate change, and highlight the key role of network cluster dynamics in multi-species ecologies.

CoI: we are planning to do an anti-EBV vaccine study to prevent MS

HSCT is shifting the Bell curve

Barts-MS rose-tinted-odometer  ★ ★ ★

The good news is that the use of autologous HSCT to treat autoimmune diseases rose (by 19%) in the European Bone Marrow Transplant registry in 2018. Importantly, this rise was predominantly due to HSCT treatment for multiple sclerosis. This would indicate that at least at the very right of the bell curve there is increasing use of a more aggressive approach to treating MS. If this indicates that the bell curve has shifted to the right it means that more pwMS are being treated with highly effective treatments and I suspect that many are getting onto these as first-line therapies. 

What will this mean at a population level? I suspect that over time the prognosis of MS will improve and an increasing number of patients treated with IRTs (cladribine, alemtuzumab and HSCT) will be rendered free of detectable disease in the longterm. If and whether we will be able to claim that a proportion of these pwMS are cured of having MS will depend on the MS community coming up with a widely accepted definition of what an MS cure looks like. 

How IRTs actually work will remain a moot point. Immunologists will claim that they deplete pathogenic autoimmune T and B lymphocytes and reset regulatory immunological networks. Proponents of the EBV hypothesis will claim they all work by targeting pathogenic memory B cells that harbour EBV. Sorting out these competing theories will really require targeted EBV studies, the sort that has been developed by Atara Bio. Another strategy will be using anti-viral agents active against EBV; this will include both existing and new anti-EBV therapies. 

If I have to bet on the outcome I would favour the EBV hypothesis. There are simply too many holes in the autoimmune theory of MS and the epidemiology backing EBV as the cause of MS is now so overwhelming that the wider MS community is finally getting behind EBV vaccination as a possible preventive strategy. I hope you agree.

Passweg et al. and the European Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation (EBMT). The EBMT activity survey on hematopoietic-cell transplantation and cellular therapy 2018: CAR-T’s come into focus. Bone Marrow Transplant. 2020 Feb 17. 

Hematopoietic-cell transplantation (HCT) is widely used for acquired and congenital disorders of the hematopoietic system. Number of transplants performed in Europe and associated countries continues to rise with 47,468 HCT in 42,901 patients [19,630 allogeneic (41%) and 27,838 autologous (59%)] reported by 701 centers in 50 countries in 2018. Main indications were myeloid malignancies 10,679 (25%; 97% allogeneic), lymphoid malignancies 27,318 (64%; 20% allogeneic), solid tumors 1625 (4%; 2.9% allogeneic), and nonmalignant disorders 3063 (7%; 81% allogeneic). This year’s analysis focuses on cellular therapies with the marked growth in CAR T-cell therapies from 151 in 2017 to 301 patients reported in 2018. Other cellular therapy numbers show less significant changes. Important trends in HCT include a 49% increase in allogeneic HCT for chronic phase CML (although transplant numbers remain low) and a 24% increase in aplastic anemia. In autologous HCT, there is an ongoing increase in autoimmune diseases (by 19%), predominantly due to activity in multiple sclerosis. This annual report reflects current activity and highlights important trends, useful for health care planning.

CoI: multiple