Getting on target in autoimmune diseases

Our immune system is a complex network of cells in our bodies that work together to protect us from harmful germs.

However in some people, these cells may malfunction (or ‘go awry’) and start to attack healthy tissue leading to autoimmune diseases which can have a major impact on patients daily lives. Some common autoimmune diseases include type-1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

https://www.aarda.org/autoimmune-information/autoimmune-statistics/

Finding the right target

The very nature of autoimmune diseases – highly unpredictable and varying from person to person – means that fighting them can be a real challenge. Researchers have faced countless obstacles over the past decades in their mission to pinpoint the root causes of these diseases and successfully bring new medicines to patients. Even after decades of work, the exact cause of autoimmune diseases still remains unknown and no cure currently exists.

Some autoimmune diseases have proven more difficult than others and the development of medicines that can treat them remains one of modern science’s biggest challenges.  Systemic lupus, for example, is a disease that has proven particularly difficult and only one new medicine has been successfully developed to treat it in more than 50 years, despite countless other clinical trials and potential medicines being studied throughout this time.

A BLyS Breakthrough: In 1996, a discovery was made that would mark the start of the biggest revolution in lupus research and treatment for decades: the identification of a protein called BLyS. This human protein, one of thousands researched, was found to play a pivotal role in the development and progression of lupus. Fast forward 15 years and following one of the largest ever clinical study programmes of its kind, the first biological medicine for systemic lupus, targeting BLyS, reached patients. To learn more about the BLyS story, watch this short animation.

Harnessing the power of the immune system

Despite the challenges faced by researchers, understanding of autoimmune diseases is improving, largely down to advances in cell biology and laboratory techniques like DNA sequencing. More than this, we are realising that whilst breakthroughs are rare, hitting the right target in one disease has the potential to unlock doors for many, many more.

We believe that if we can harness the power of the immune system we may be able to alter the fundamental course of certain diseases, helping address a huge unmet patient need.

For example, we are testing the theory that if a treatment works in a disease driven by a particular part of the immune system, then it should work in other diseases driven by the same part of the immune system. Our strategy is to explore this further, in the hope that it’s the starting point in the development of new medicines for our patients.

But we can’t do this alone and collaboration is key. We areleading the field with the concept of building long-term collaborative relationships. Our Immunology Network, unique to GSK, embeds some of the world’s leading immunologists from academic research institutions within our labs, working alongside our scientists.

Together, we hope that this collaboration, co-operation and collective intelligence will help identify exciting new areas of research and lead us into the next 50 years of medicines’ exploration.

“Autoimmune diseases remain an area of great unmet patient need. By harnessing the rapidly evolving science around the field of immunology and joining forces with world-renowned academics and institutions in the area, we can discover and develop important new medicines which can help physicians and patients to improve the management of these diseases”.

Dr. Ravi Rao, GSK Immuno-Inflammation Medical Head

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