Scientists have created a vaccine-style way of treating rheumatoid arthritis and phase one clinical trial results demonstrate its safety.
Results from the phase one clinical trial, published in Science Translational Medicine, demonstrate the new treatment is safe and effective in suppressing the immune response, says Professor Ranjeny Thomas of the University of Queensland Diamantina Institute.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease in which the immune system attacks healthy tissues, particularly in the joints, causing inflammation, pain, and deformity.
Thomas says the treatment targeted the underlying cause of rheumatoid arthritis. “Current therapies only treat the symptoms and slow the progression of the disease,” says Thomas.
TEACHING THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
“We have designed a vaccine-style treatment or ‘immunotherapy’ specifically for individuals carrying high-risk rheumatoid arthritis genes and specific rheumatoid arthritis antibodies, called anti-CCP. This type of rheumatoid arthritis is called ‘CCP-positive’ and accounts for the majority of cases.
“Our immune system is made up of specialized cells that move through blood and tissue, preventing disease and fighting infection by distinguishing between what is the body’s own healthy tissue and what is foreign,” she explains.
“This treatment teaches the patient’s immune system to ignore a naturally occurring peptide that is incorrectly identified as ‘foreign,’ resulting in the production of CCP antibodies and causing inflammation.
“A personalized immunotherapy was prepared for each patient by taking a sample of their blood and extracting a particular type of immune cell called dendritic cells,” says Thomas. “The patient’s dendritic cells were then challenged with the ‘foreign’ peptide and an immune system modulator. The treated dendritic cells were then injected back into the patient.”
Thomas says a single injection of the patient’s own immune-modified dendritic cells was found to be safe and to help suppress the immune response in rheumatoid arthritis. “This in turn was associated with reduced inflammation,” she says.
“At this stage, the technique would not be ideal for widespread treatment or prevention of rheumatoid arthritis because it’s costly and time-consuming,” adds Thomas.
“However, the promising results of this trial lay the foundations for the development of a more cost-effective, clinically-practical vaccine technology that could deliver similar outcomes for patients.
Professor Thomas is working on a delivery technology with Dendright Pty Ltd (a UniQuest start-up company) in collaboration Janssen Biotech Inc., one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson.
If the delivery of this technology proves successful in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, it could also be applied to other autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes.