While we mostly think of disease as being caused by bacteria or viruses, an illness can often occur when the body’s own defenses turn against itself. Here we’ll take a look at seven rare autoimmune diseases you may not have heard of and what biotechs are doing to treat them.
The body’s immune system can be equally as toxic to foreign organisms as it can to its own tissues. A hyperactive immune system can wreak havoc on the body, with patients often afflicted by more than one autoimmune disease at once.
We discuss many well-known rare autoimmune diseases on a regular basis, such as multiple sclerosis, which results from an immune attack on the myelin sheath of nerve cells; type 1 diabetes, where the immune system destroys insulin-producing pancreatic cells; rheumatoidarthritis, in which the joints suffer from inflammation; and lupus, when the whole body is under attack from the immune system.
There are different types of autoimmune diseases that cause inflammation of the thyroidgland, which can lead to hormonal imbalances. Grave’s disease occurs when antibodies induce the thyroid to secrete too much thyroid hormone, which can lead to tremors, red skin and an irregular heartbeat.
Grave’s disease is usually treated by removing the thyroid gland and giving patients lifelong hormone replacement therapy. However, synthetic thyroxine can induce hypothyroidism, a condition where the thyroid gland is not active enough. Because of this, searching for new treatments for Grave’s disease is still necessary.
To this end, British-Belgian biotech Apitope obtained positive Phase I results earlier this year for a first-in-class treatment for Grave’s disease. Apitope’s treatment uses a protein to inactivate white blood cells that attack the thyroid gland.
One common misconception of dermatological conditions like psoriasis is that they cause mostly just cosmetic damage and discomfort. However, similar to burn victims, the skin damage can be very serious during flare-ups of the disease. This leaves patients unable to regulate their body temperature normally and makes them vulnerable to life-threatening infections. Today, palliative care and biologics, which block cells or proteins involved in the disease, are available to treat psoriasis. However, antibody treatment may prove to be a more effective approach, and biotechs are racing to bring their treatments to the market.