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Collaboration Advances Potential Therapy for Autoimmune Diseases

  [ 19 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • June 7, 2002

The Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PPNL) has launched collaboration with two U.S. companies and Russian scientists to develop more effective treatments for autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, which afflict nearly 50 million Americans.

Through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, Advanced Biotherapy Inc. of Woodland Hills, Calif., and New Horizon Diagnostics Inc. of Columbia, Md., will look to create, test, and distribute potential therapies for autoimmune disease developed by scientists at the Institute of Immunological Engineering of Moscow or by PNNL researchers through this program.

The Russian scientists have created unique humanized antibodies to gamma interferon, a protein that when overproduced triggers and exacerbates various autoimmune conditions. This work is a major step toward creating a much-improved treatment for certain autoimmune diseases.

Until recently, most treatments employed antibodies derived from mice, which were effective but could be used only one or two times before the human body rejected them. Antibodies are proteins that bind to and disable foreign proteins, called antigens. With fully humanized antibodies, the human body potentially could accept them over longer periods of time, thus providing for long-term treatment.

The Russian research, coupled with a treatment method developed by Advanced Biotherapy, appears promising.

"If we can control the production of this protein, we then may be able to control the disease," said Edmond Buccellato, CEO of Advanced Biotherapy. "We believe that blocking the action of this cytokine could be the basis for a universal treatment for a host of autoimmune diseases."

Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease, is the leading cause of disability in the United States and will impact nearly 60 million Americans by 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Other autoimmune diseases include lupus, insulin-dependent diabetes and arthritis of the spine. These diseases erupt when the immune system mistakenly attacks itself rather than protects itself. While the root causes of these attacks largely are unknown to scientists, results can be organ-specific disorders, such as insulin-dependent diabetes that affects the pancreas, or disorders that impact the entire body, such as rheumatoid arthritis, in which joints swell.

"Our main objective is to make it possible for these organizations to develop a therapy that will remove the symptoms of these painful diseases so people can live better lives," said Richard Weller, PNNL principal investigator.

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