A team of scientists from the University of Queensland have just established the world’s first vaccine-style approach to treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoinflammatory disease of the joints that affects over 450,000 Australians.
Lead investigator Professor Ranjeny Thomas at the University’s Diamantina Institute said this Phase I clinical study titled, “Citrullinated peptide dendritic cell immunotherapy in HLA risk genotype–positive rheumatoid arthritis patients,” now published in Science Translational Medicine, evidences the treatment’s safety and effectiveness to suppress the body’s immune response – one of the primary root causes of RA.
“Current therapies only treat the symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. 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,” Dr. Thomas explained. “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.”
According to Dr. Thomas, to create this potentially groundbreaking approach to immunotherapy, patients’ dendritic cells were obtained via blood extraction. These immune cells were then challenged with the “foreign” peptide along with an immunomodulator, before being injected back into the patient.
This approach would only require one injection of the patient’s own modified dendritic cells, which has been observed in tests to be safe, effective, and sufficient to control the hyperactive immune response behind RA.
The researcher adds, “At this stage, the technique would not be ideal for widespread treatment or prevention of rheumatoid arthritis because it’s costly and time-consuming. 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. ”
At present, Dr. Thomas is advancing a delivery method with Dendright Pty Ltd, a UniQuest start-up company, together with Janssen Biotech Inc. If this new delivery technology gains approval and authorization for use in rheumatoid arthritis, further tests can be conducted on other autoimmune diseases, such as Type 1 diabetes.