Scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute have developed the first of a new class of highly selective compounds that effectively suppresses the severity of multiple sclerosis in animal models. The new compound could provide new and potentially more effective therapeutic approaches to multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases that affect patients worldwide. The study appeared April 17, 2011, in an advance online edition of Nature. Current treatments for autoimmunity suppress the patient's entire immune system, leaving patients vulnerable to a range of adverse side effects. Because the new compound, known as SR1001, only blocks the actions of a specific cell type playing a significant role in autoimmunity, it appears to avoid many of the widespread side effects of current therapies. "This is a novel drug that works effectively in animal models with few side effects," said Dr. Tom Burris, a professor in the Department of Molecular Therapeutics at Scripps Florida who led the study, which was a multidisciplinary collaboration with scientists including Drs. Patrick Griffin, William Roush, and Ted Kamenecka of Scripps Research, and Dr. Paul Drew of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. "We have been involved in several discussions with both pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms who are very interested in developing it further." A lengthy process of drug development and review is required to ensure a new drug's safety and efficacy before it can be brought to market. "This impressive multidisciplinary team has used a combined structural and functional approach to describe a class of molecules that could lead to new medicines for treating autoimmune diseases," said Dr. Charles Edmonds, who oversees structural biology grants at the National Institutes of Health.
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