Queensland: New treatments are on the horizon for ankylosing spondylitis and two other debilitating conditions that affect up to three per cent of the global population – thanks to a research and development deal involving University of Queensland research. University of Queensland Diamantina Institute Director Professor Matt Brown said the agreement between UQ’s commercialisation arm, UniQuest, and Janssen Cilag Pty Limited (Janssen), would capitalise on more than a decade of research. The research involves important enzymes involved in activating the immune system.
Professor Brown said it had implications for the treatment of
ankylosing spondylitis – a painful form of arthritis – and for psoriasis
and inflammatory bowel disease.
“These three conditions affect two to three per cent of the world’s
population, and there is a great need for better treatments,” he said.
“This research and development agreement is a dream come true.
“I have spent my career researching the causes of these conditions,
so it is tremendously rewarding to be collaborating with Janssen to find
a treatment based on one of our discoveries.”
Professor Matt Brown from The University of Queensland on Vimeo available for media use.
Ankylosing spondylitis is an incurable immune disease affecting the spine, joints and tendons, and can be difficult to diagnose.
“Patients often ignore the initial symptoms, including recurring back
pain and stiffness, but if untreated it can slowly worsen and result in
the spine becoming fused and totally inflexible.” Professor Brown said.
Current treatments focus on reducing the symptoms, using
non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and biologic therapies to minimise
pain and inflammation.
In the 1970s it was discovered that most people with ankylosing spondylitis carried a mutation on a gene called HLA-B27.
Professor Brown said that for 40 years it was thought to be the only gene involved in the development of the disease.
“But since 2007 we have identified more than 26 other genes involved
in the development of ankylosing spondylitis. This discovery has led to
the resulting research collaboration.”
Professor Brown and colleagues published research in Nature Genetics in
2011, explaining how select enzymes work with HLA-B27 to help the
immune system distinguish between what is self and what is foreign.
They showed that in ankylosing spondylitis genetic variants result in
the production of overactive enzymes that act in combination with
HLA-B27 to induce arthritis.
Research published in Nature Communication last month shows
that a specific enzyme works in conjunction with HLA-B27 and other genes
associated with ankylosing spondylitis, psoriasis and inflammatory
Professor Brown said the culmination of this research led to the identification of two enzymes as promising drug targets.
“We think that by inhibiting these enzymes we could be able to switch
off the immune reaction that causes these common diseases.” he said.
“In animal models the absence of such genes appears to have very few side effects.
“Our three-year collaboration seeks to capitalise on Janssen’s drug
discovery expertise including their capability to screen thousands of
compounds to find inhibitors of the two enzymes, which we would optimise
Janssen Cilag Pty Limited, one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical
Companies of Johnson & Johnson, will have exclusive worldwide rights
to develop and commercialise the drug candidates identified by UQ
Also involved in the project are collaborators from St Vincent's Institute of Medical Research.