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New Approaches to Treating Autoimmune Diseases

This article was originally published in Start Up

Executive Summary

In the past few years, new classes of biologics have revolutionized treatment of autoimmune diseases, especially multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and asthma. Biologics tend to be most effective because they work on specific targets and impact the underlying causes of disease. In addition to new biologics, a number of companies and academic researchers are looking at expanding applications for certain cancer drugs to autoimmune diseases. The rationale behind this is straightforward: both diseases have inflammatory effects and require cytotoxic approaches. However, for all the difficulties scientists have had in understanding cancer, they've had even more in trying to figure out autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases tend to have systemic effects and thus it's hard to pinpoint a single site of disease.

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With a host of drugs on the market for large inflammatory disease indications like rheumatoid arthritis, start-ups are finding niches elsewhere.

Opexa Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Opexa Pharmaceuticals was founded in February 2001 to develop therapeutic vaccines for autoimmune diseases. Based on techniques designed by co-founder Jingwu Zhang of Baylor College of Medicine, its first product is a vaccine comprised of autologous myelin-reactive T-cells that stimulate the immune response of patients with multiple sclerosis. The selectivity of the process enables greater efficacy with fewer side effects than existing therapies for MS.

Bayhill Therapeutics Inc.

By using DNA that encodes for self-antigens, Bayhill Therapeutics hopes to dampen or terminate the activities of TH1 helper cells involved in tissue destruction in autoimmune diseases, specifically multiple sclerosis, while at the same time activating TH2 cells to help combat the disease.

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