Researchers say a new plant-derived drug may block the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS). The drug, named T20K, is extracted from a traditional medicinal plant, the Oldenlandia affinis, found in Mozambique and elsewhere.
University of Queensland, Australia, researcher Dr. Christian Gruber said the breakthrough could be a step forward in MS and other autoimmune diseases.
"This is a really exciting discovery because it may offer a whole new quality of life for people with this debilitating disease," he said.
MS is a chronic incurable condition that afflicts about 2.5 million people worldwide. It is characterized by attacks that bring gradual deterioration in the patient's health.
Gruber said T20K has been successful in animal tests and applications for clinical trials in patients have been filed in several countries. Trials could begin as early as 2018, he said.
The drug is expected to be taken by mouth, unlike many current MS treatments that require frequent injections.
Gruber said the new treatment arose from a synthesised plant peptide, a class of drugs known as cyclotides.
"Cyclotides are present in a range of common plants, and they show significant potential for the treatment of auto immune diseases," he said. "The T20K peptides exhibit extraordinary stability and chemical features that are ideally what you want in an oral drug candidate."
He and his colleagues published their breakthrough in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.