Australian Partnership to Advance Technology to Treat Sjogren’s

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by Forest Ray PhD |

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The University of Queensland’s technology transfer company, UniQuest, will partner with the biotechnology company CSL Limited to develop and commercialize the university’s antigen specific immune tolerance induction (ASITI) technology for the treatment of Sjogren’s syndrome.

As an autoimmune disorder, Sjogren’s syndrome involves the immune system mistakenly attacking a patient’s own tissues, namely the glands that make tears and saliva. Essentially, the immune system grows intolerant to molecules found in these tissues.

The university research team, led by professor Ranjeny Thomas, MD, from the university’s Diamantina Institute, discovered that the body’s immune response could be reprogrammed to turn off, rather than react to a self-antigen that would otherwise trigger the autoimmune disease. In this way, the ASITI system aims to bring back lost immune tolerance in patients without impairing healthy immune function.

“The ASITI technology addresses the immunological cause of autoimmune disease,” Thomas said in a university press release, noting that the system “re-establishes disease-specific tolerance in patients, without impairing normal immunity and the ability to fight infections.”

The goal of the collaboration is to identify a liposome-encapsulated antigen candidate for Sjogren’s syndrome and subsequently shepherd that lead candidate toward clinical development. Liposomes are spheres of fatty acids that can encapsulate molecules, such as various therapeutic compounds, and deliver them into cells.

“This ASITI platform technology has the potential to change the lives of those suffering from autoimmune diseases,” said Dean Moss, PhD, CEO of UniQuest.

Thomas’s team has previously developed a liposome candidate for rheumatoid arthritis, named DEN-181.

“Our liposome-encapsulated antigen — DEN-181 for rheumatoid arthritis — has been developed to the end of a first-in-human clinical trial,” Thomas said. “From that first clinical trial we learnt a lot about DEN-181 and its ability to modulate the immune system in a disease-specific manner and platform improvements.”

“We are now applying this knowledge to the Sjogren’s syndrome program, as well as our unpartnered preclinical programs including for rheumatoid arthritis and Type 1 diabetes,” she added.

Andrew Nash, PhD, senior vice president of research at CSL, highlighted that this collaboration “is another example of Australian research excellence, harnessing the strengths of both industry and academia to address an important area of unmet medical need.”