More MS news articles for Jan 2002

Gene therapy for arthritis shows promise

Jan 22, 2002
By Ned Stafford
FRANKFURT, Reuters Health

Preliminary research into a type of gene therapy for rheumatoid arthritis has yielded promising results, indicating that it might be possible to develop anti-inflammatory injections that need only be given once every few months, German researchers report.

Dr. Axel Baltzer, of the University Hospital in Dusseldorf, told Reuters Health that phase I clinical trials of the gene therapy confirmed that it has no serious side effects and is a feasible approach for joint disease treatment.

"We can show that this is a method (that) will enable us to give long-term treatment of rheumatoid arthritis with just one injection," he said.

The developer of the treatment is Dr. C. H. Evans of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. Evans and colleagues in the US conducted phase I research on nine patients. Baltzer and Dr. Peter Wehling, who is now operating a biotech company in Dusseldorf, have completed phase I trials in Germany with three patients.

Baltzer said the 12 patients, all with advanced rheumatoid arthritis, were treated with the same basic procedure. Cells were drawn from an arthritic joint, cultured and genetically altered so they would produce the anti-inflammatory protein interleukin-1 receptor antagonist.

After a few weeks in culture, the treated cells were injected into two joints. In the placebo-controlled study, one additional joint was injected with non-treated cells and one joint injected with a saline solution.

In the US, patients participating in the study had already been slated for joint replacement. The injections were given 4 weeks before replacement surgery, and were producing the desired anti-inflammatory protein for at least 4 weeks, Baltzer said. In Germany, the injection was shown to be effective for 6 weeks, until all the treated tissues were surgically removed for joint replacement. In both the US and Germany, the treatment resulted in pain relief lasting a few months for some patients, he said.

Baltzer said the researchers will publish study results within the next few months and hope to begin phase II studies this year.

"This could be the first step in finding a cure for rheumatoid arthritis, " he said. "But right now our goal is to find a way to help people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis for an extended period of time with just one injection."

Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited