Researchers are uncovering new drugs with new mechanisms of action that span the distance between the basic science of immunology and the clinic. It is important that clinicians understand the underlying background and targets of these new drugs in order to apply these advances in treating rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA researchers are approaching the onset of a new era of therapeutic agents that combine the ease of oral administration with therapeutic efficacy that may be as effective as antibody-based therapy for RA. These new agents, kinase inhibitors, target activity in intracellular signaling pathways responsible for the activation of pathogenic immune cells. This has led to increased attention to signaling pathways to evaluate their potential for generating more specific and high-affinity small organic molecules.
You Might Also Like
Explore This IssueJanuary 2012
Also By This Author
This research and its application were addressed in the ACR Immunology Updates for the Clinician, “New Targets in Rheumatoid Arthritis: SYK, JAKs, BTK,” at the 2011 ACR/ARHP Annual Scientific Meeting in November. [Editor’s note: This session was recorded and is available via ACR SessionSelect at www.rheumatology.org.] Leading the session, Iain B. McInnes, FRCP, PhD, FRSE, professor of experimental medicine and rheumatology and director of the Institute of Infection, Immunity, and Inflammation at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, said he is speaking to those clinicians “who are trying to set themselves up for the new generation” of treatment. Dr. McInnes said, “What we need in the way of therapeutics should be at least as good if not better than what is available for us within our current best strategy.” Fortunately, Dr. McInnes continued, “therapeutic options in treatment of rheumatoid arthritis are expanding rapidly with the advent of novel strategies of treatment together with arrival of new therapeutic agents including biologics.”
Pathological Landscape of the Rheumatoid Process
RA is a three-phase process, a multi-hit phenomenon in which environmental factors, including but not confined to smoking, periodontal disease, and changes in gut microbiology, bring about epigenetic modifications in the structure of some cell proteins. These epigenetic changes cause the immune system to find the affected cells interesting, which leads to autosensitivity of the cell and the body’s inability to tolerate the cell’s altered makeup. This phase of intolerance may occur for several years before the patient develops RA. Therefore, the patient is often an immunological patient before becoming a rheumatoid patient.
The immunological underpinning of the RA process supports the early breach of tolerance and perpetual chronicity, and therefore some may assume that a one-size-fits-all drug approach is adequate. However, the clinical implication of that is immunologically and clinically naive. The immunological patient moves through four stages to reach the condition of RA:
- Pre RA
- Early RA
- Breach of tolerance
- Established chronic phase
Rheumatologists need to understand each stage in order to make informed decisions about treatment. Dr. McInnes thinks that “one of the big advances of the next decade is going to be understanding the distinct pathophysiology of the processes that dominate at distinct stages of disease development and to thereby design our clinical strategies and use of drugs to match the pathology that predominates at that disease stage.”
New therapeutic treatment options and agents tailored to immunological mechanisms do not require researchers and clinicians to learn anything new about immunology. Dr. McInnes reassured his audience that “the immune system we are talking about in the context of kinase targeting is identical to the one we have already learned about in the past ten years when thinking about biologic therapies.” What is new is that the “new classes of drugs allow us to pick in very specific ways the different parts of the immunological cascade we wish to modify,” explained Dr. McInnes. In other words, physicians “are looking for new targets in the same old immune system.” To do that, they need to understand signaling pathways.
Signaling pathways are interactions between molecules on the outside or on the surface of a cell that in turn lead to interaction with a receptor that will change its properties. In many cases, the interaction is responsible for activation of pathogenic immune cells. Signaling pathways work by changing shape, conformation, or state of cells by exchanging phosphate molecules. The binding of phosphate changes allows kinases to change shape. Signaling pathways then transmit signals via cascades of protein kinases. Thus, kinases are efficient ways of entering a cell and discovering or rediscovering targets inside the cell.