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New therapy for ulcerative colitis reported


London, ON – An anti-inflammatory discovery made at Robarts Research Institute in the mid-90s has led to the development of a new drug — now tested successfully in a multi-centre clinical trial — that could prove a promising strategy for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease.

In a paper published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, lead author Dr Brian Feagan, Director of Robarts Clinical Trials, and his colleagues found that treatment with an experimental drug, known as MLN02, rapidly induced remission in patients with active ulcerative colitis.

"We’re very encouraged by these results," says Dr Feagan, a gastroenterologist at London Health Sciences Centre with expertise in inflammatory bowel disease. "We believe this drug will ultimately prove to be a valuable new therapy for this chronic disease."

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic immune disorder that produces inflammation and ulcers in the large bowel or colon. The ulcers cause bloody diarrhea along with abdominal pain and cramps. Current steroid- based treatment for the disease often doesn’t work and can cause severe adverse effects.

The experimental drug evaluated in the study is a humanized monoclonal antibody designed to keep immune T-cells from moving from the blood to the intestine, where they trigger inflammation and ulcers. In this randomized trial, approximately twice as many patients who received MLN02 entered remission than those who received placebo.

In their research paper, the authors acknowledged the initial anti-inflammatory research done by Dr Andrew Lazarovits, a Robarts scientist from 1986 until his death in 1999. His discovery of the mouse equivalent of this antibody — originally applied to anti-rejection strategies in kidney transplantation — was published in the top-ranked journal Nature in 1996. The drug was then licensed to Millennium Pharmaceuticals of Boston for further development. Dr Lazarovits died of a brain tumour six years ago, at age 44, before seeing the drug’s full potential as a therapy for colitis.

"This study is a London success story — from the early immunological research through to this multi-centre trial run from Robarts Clinical Trials group, with its very encouraging results," said Dr Mark Poznansky, Robarts president & scientific director.

Researchers expect to start a longer-term clinical trial to further evaluate MLN02 in the near future.