Pushing scientific boundaries in autoimmune and inflammatory diseases


Bing Yao, Ph.D

Inflammation and autoimmunity includes a range of complex and often undertreated diseases. In fact, there are over 80 different autoimmune-related diseases alone, with an estimated 50 million Americans living and coping with autoimmune disease. Many of these patients struggle to find effective treatments.

As a result, AstraZeneca and MedImmune are committed to developing innovative treatments that push the boundaries of science to ultimately provide benefit to patients in these areas. This week at the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) 2014 Annual Meeting, we’re showcasing some promising new data from our growing inflammation and autoimmunity portfolio. Together, AZ and MedImmune are presenting more than 15 abstracts.

More specifically, MedImmune will present data on innovative investigational monoclonal antibodies, including sifalimumab and anifrolumab which are being studied in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, or lupus) and mavrilimumab which is being studied in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). These two chronic—often debilitating—diseases are frustrating for patients and challenging for researchers because of their complexity.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful, systemic, chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease which causes damage to the joints and is associated with increased co-morbidity. If not adequately treated, RA is a major cause of disability leading to diminished work capacity and is associated with reduced life expectancy.

And lupus is a disease in which the immune system produces antibodies that, instead of targeting viruses or other foreign invaders, attacks healthy tissue in the body, including skin, joints, the brain, and blood vessels. Lupus can cause a range of symptoms, including pain, rashes, fatigue, swelling in joints, and fevers, and is associated with a higher risk of death from causes such as infection and cardiovascular disease.

For RA, we’ll be talking about results from our Phase IIb study of mavrilimumab, our first-in-class human monoclonal antibody (mAb) that targets the GM-CSF receptor pathway. This is a key pathway driving the RA disease process.

For patients with moderate to severe systemic lupus, we’re excited about data for two molecules that target the interferon pathway. First, we’re presenting data from a Phase IIb study on sifalimumab in a late-breaking oral presentation. Sifalimumab targets interferon-α subtypes, inflammatory cytokines which play a critical role in the pathogenesis of SLE.

We’re also sharing results from two open-label Phase II studies, one with sifalimumab and one with anifrolumab, our other anti-Type I interferon monoclonal antibody currently under investigation. The studies evaluated the pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamics effects of both molecules in the blood of adult SLE Japanese patients. Anifrolumab represents a potential first-in-class approach, targeting the Type I Interferon receptor and blocking all Type 1 interferon signaling.

Through innovative research like this and the continued exploration of novel pathways, we’ve been building a diverse emerging pipeline in inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. This covers a broad set of patients who have clear, unmet medical needs and, always, our focus is on them. But, what we also have here is an unparalleled commitment to pushing scientific boundaries, particularly in understanding the drivers and mechanisms of diseases. This is the “follow the science” mantra that guides us and will give us the best opportunity for providing benefits to patients.