A Teary-Eyed Look for Clues About an Autoimmune Disease

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By Staff Reports

(DGIwire) – Tears of sorrow could turn to tears of joy if scientists’ work on an autoimmune disease bears fruit. In June 2016, Ophthalmology Times reported that research on the composition of tears is generating insights that could lead to earlier detection and treatment of Sjögren’s syndrome— an inflammatory disease that can affect many parts of the body, most often the tear and saliva glands, according to the American College of Rheumatology.

One recent development, courtesy of researchers at the University of Southern California’s Roski Eye Institute, is the discovery that four tear biomarkers distinguish patients with Sjögren’s syndrome from patients with other autoimmune diseases. About 10 years ago, the USC team used mice to discover that a specific protein—called cathepsin S—was increased significantly in the tear and lacrimal glands during Sjögren’s. In 2014, the same finding was made in humans. Now the team has expanded its finding to study three other proteins as well—secretory IgA, lactoferin and cystatin C—that might also serve as biomarkers for Sjögren’s.

“Uncovering new clues about the detection of Sjögren’s represents a positive development, as does uncovering new pathways to treatment,” says Gur Roshwalb, MD, CEO of Akari Therapeutics. “Fortunately, work now being performed holds out the promise of improved tools for doctors and their Sjögren’s patients in the future.”

Although there exist various medications to treat individual Sjögren’s symptoms, Akari is testing a small-molecule protein named Coversin. Derived from a protein in the saliva of the Ornithodoros moubata tick, Coversin is also being developed as a topical ocular treatment, making self-administration possible if approved for commercialization. The company has successfully completed a 60-day topical eye toxicology study and there are animal model data showing that Coversin has activity against eye surface inflammation.

Coversin is designed to inhibit the action of C5 and LTB4, which play key roles in a component of the immune system called the complement system and in the inflammatory system. Ordinarily, the complement system helps disable and clear out foreign invaders and unwanted cells, but when C5’s variants are produced in unregulated numbers, the result can trigger life-threatening inflammatory and autoimmune conditions such as Sjögren’s. Further, LTB4, produced in inflammatory reactions, attracts white blood cells (neutrophils) to the area of inflammation, increasing the inflammatory reaction. Coversin has shown promise as a combination C5 and LTB4 inhibitor.

“The work that has been done to date with Coversin leads us to believe that it could present a promising pathway for Sjögren’s treatment,” adds Roshwalb. “Being able to give these patients new alternatives is something we are very enthusiastic about.”

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