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La Jolla’s Scripps Research gets FDA approval for multiple sclerosis drug

 In this 2005 file photo, a sign stands in front of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Company's headquarters in Lawrence Township, N.J.
Bristol-Myers Squibb is headquartered in Lawrence Township, N.J.
(The Associated Press)

The drug Zaposia is being brought to market by Bristol Myers Squibb

A multiple sclerosis drug invented at Scripps Research in La Jolla has received approval from the Food and Drug Administration, but its roll out will be delayed by the coronavirus crisis, which is straining pharmaceutical companies worldwide.

The drug Zaposia is being brought to market by Bristol Myers Squibb, which developed the compound to treat adults with relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis, or MS for short.

MS is “a chronic illness involving your central nervous system. The immune system attacks myelin, which is the protective layer around nerve fibers,” says Healthline.com

Most people with MS suffer from fatigue. And many have trouble walking, which can be due to a variety of issues ranging from muscle spasms to poor balance.

In 2008, Scripps Research scientists Hugh Rosen and Ed Roberts synthesized the compound that’s at the heart of the new drug. The breakthrough came during the Great Recession, when investment in drug discovery slumped. But the drug later made it through clinical trials, leading to FDA approval.

“This is very heart-warming,” Rosen said on March 26. “It’s a good compound that will help a lot of patients.”

The pathway to FDA approval was a long and twisty one. As Scripps officials noted, the institute licensed the drug — which has the scientific name of ozanimod — to Receptos, a startup company. Receptos was bought by Celgene six years later. Then Celgene was bought by Bristol Myers in 2019.

Earlier in his career, Rosen played a role in developing Invanz, an antibiotic that fights bacteria, and Cancidas, which treats fungal infections.

Scripps Research has long been a powerhouse in drug development, playing a major role in medicines such Surfaxin, which treats respiratory distress in preterm infants, and Tafamidis, which treats heart disease.

The institute is currently seeking survivors of the COVID-19 virus who are willing to donate some of their blood, which will be screened for antibodies that could be useful in fighting the virus. It is partnering on the project with UC San Diego, which is also beginning to test whether remdesivir, an experimental antiviral drug, can be safely and effectively used to fight the novel coronavirus .