University of Edinburgh and Genzyme collaboration aims to reduce neurodegeneration in MS

12 January 2015

Dr Scott Webster and Dr Anna Williams
Dr Scott Webster and Dr Anna Williams

University of Edinburgh scientists are set to work with leading biotechnology company Genzyme, a Sanofi company, to carry out drug discovery research that could reduce neuron damage in the brain.

The collaboration - facilitated by Edinburgh BioQuarter’s Business Development team - will focus on identifying therapeutic candidates capable of promoting remyelination and reducing neurodegeneration, mostly in relation to Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

MS is caused by damage to myelin, the protective layer that surrounds nerve fibres. This damage affects the transmission of electrical signals from the brain to the rest of the body and results in symptoms such as problems with muscle movement, balance and vision. Over time MS patients accrue disability, which usually slowly gets worse - this is related to neurodegeneration.

A natural process called ‘remyelination’ can repair damaged myelin and restore nerve function. In MS, however, remyelination is inefficient.

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh have discovered a physiologically-occurring molecule that prevents the cells needed to help repair damaged myelin from reaching the area of damage, which limits remyelination.

By working with Genzyme, co-investigators Dr Anna Williams, of the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, and Dr Scott Webster hope to identify inhibitors of this molecule (or its receptor) to prevent this block and encourage the cells capable of repairing myelin into the area of damage.

Dr Williams said:

“If successful, this will be a step-change in MS treatment as current treatments are unable to repair the damaged neurons that cause the symptoms of MS. Ultimately this could reduce neurodegeneration in MS and the accumulation of disability in patients. This treatment could also be used in other diseases where myelin is damaged, such as spinal cord injury.”

Dr Johanne Kaplan, Vice President of Neuroimmunology Research at Genzyme, stated:

“We are very much looking forward to a productive collaboration with Dr Williams and Dr Webster based on our combined expertise in remyelination and drug discovery and development. Remyelination-promoting therapies remain an unmet need and would be of great benefit to MS patients”.



Name                                    Shona Cameron

Organisation                      Head of Marketing & Communications, Edinburgh Bioquarter

Telephone                           0131 242 9249


About Edinburgh BioQuarter Edinburgh BioQuarter brings together scientists from the University of Edinburgh and NHS Lothian with commercial research companies to collaborate and accelerate the development of new drugs, diagnostic tools and medical devices to treat diseases. This huge enterprise has made Edinburgh a leading European destination for translational medical research, fast-tracking drug development from ‘bench to bedside’. About seven years ago the University of Edinburgh joined forces with Scottish Enterprise and NHS Lothian to create the Edinburgh BioQuarter. The aims for this new organisation were: to foster deeper links with industry through collaborative research; to create new companies based on Edinburgh’s research base, and to encourage a culture of commercialisation in the NHS and among academic researchers. An experienced Commercialisation Team was established in 2010 to deliver these aims and in four years has spun out ten new life sciences businesses and negotiated a number of major industrial collaborations, as well as generating 150 new product or business concepts from its Innovation Competition. For more information visit

About the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine The MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine (CRM) is a world leading research centre based at the University of Edinburgh. Scientists and clinicians at CRM study stem cells, disease and tissue repair to advance human health. The Centre is based at the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine (SCRM) building, on a site shared by the Royal Infirmary Hospital and the University's Clinical Research facilities. With new state-of-the-art facilities and a 230+ team of scientists and clinicians, CRM is positioned uniquely to translate scientific knowledge to industry and the clinic. For more information visit

For more information contact Shona Cameron, Head of Marketing and Communications on 0131 242 9249 or