Our immune system needs to tell the difference between normal and healthy cells in order to defend against infections and diseases. In patients with autoimmune disorders, this process doesn’t occur. Instead, the immune system goes into overdrive and begins to attack the body’s normal, healthy organs and tissues, causing deterioration and destruction.
More than 23.5 million Americans are affected by an autoimmune disease. To date, there are more than 80 known autoimmune diseases that range in the severity of symptoms, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, lupus and multiple sclerosis.
Autoimmune disorders are some of the most complex diseases that biopharmaceutical researchers face. While the exact causes of these disorders are unknown, researchers are gaining a better understanding of potential factors that may be involved. Autoimmune diseases tend to run in families, are more common in women than in men and environmental factors, even physical trauma, can trigger the immune system to attack the body.
The complex biology of these diseases makes it difficult to identify treatments and design informative clinical trials.
However, researchers have found that multiple diseases can share similar symptoms or affect similar parts of the body. Because of this overlap, researchers are studying medicines previously approved to treat one autoimmune disease as potential treatments for additional diseases.
Gaining a deeper understanding of these complex disorders will take collaboration. One important initiative in place is the Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP). Through this unprecedented public-private partnership, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 10 biopharmaceutical companies and multiple non-profit organizations are gathering data and sharing their results publicly with the medical community. The project is studying rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, analyzing each disease at the molecular level. Key goals of the initiative include:
- Increase efficiency by shortening medicine development times by months or years and improve prospects for success.
- Improve the process by testing therapies on patients most likely to respond based on their individual biological profiles.
- Increase effectiveness of therapies by reaching a better understanding of the underlying diseases and how they target.
Across the biopharmaceutical industry, there are more than 300 medicines in development for patients with autoimmune diseases. For a complete list of the medicines in development, click here.