News Feature | December 12, 2014

Novartis Funds NIHR Trial For Sjogren's Syndrome Treatment

By Suzanne Hodsden

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) in England has announced the start of a new clinical trial to test a potential treatment for Sjogren’s Syndrome (SS). The trial will be funded by Swiss-based Novartis and will represent a research collaboration between the U.K.’s top joint and inflammatory disease experts.

SS is an auto-immune disorder in which white blood cells damage and possibly destroy the glands responsible for tears and saliva, and the two most common symptoms presented with the disease are dry mouth and dry eyes. The disease may cause dryness in other organs, however, which can affect kidneys, GI system, blood vessels, lung, liver, and the central nervous system if left untreated. Five to 10 percent of SS patients develop lymphoma.

A recent study conducted in India at the Christian Medical College (CMC) found that the disease had a genetic origin which was triggered by viral infection, the New Indian Express reported.

There is no cure for SS, and the only existing treatments address the symptoms of the disease. The NIHR reports that SS is the second most common auto-immune disorder after rheumatoid arthritis.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the disease might be more prevalent than we know because many patients do not know they have it until symptoms are exacerbated.

Robert Fox, a researcher at UB, remarked “Sjogren’s patients are diagnosed too late when they’re way past the point where they can generally benefit from treatment.”

Researchers at the University of Buffalo (UB) have recently received U.S. patent for a new biomarker-based test that can diagnose SS in its very early stages by detecting certain antibodies. 

The NIHR study will be testing an antibody treatment for the disease with hopes of bringing relief to SS sufferers.

George Freeman, Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Life Sciences emphasized the U.K.’s commitment in bridging talents between the government, academia, and the pharmaceutical industry for expeditious discovery.

The NIHR was founded in 2006, and the NIHR Translational Research Partnership was created to support those pharma companies in the early development of innovative new treatments.

Ben Fisher, researcher at the University of Birmingham and leader of the study, said in a statement, “Sjorgen’s Syndrome can cause substantial distress for patients, and we currently have no treatment that can significantly tackle this condition. By working in collaboration with some of the U.K.’s leading research centers and companies like Novartis, we aim to bring new and better treatments into the clinic and provide real benefit for patients.”

The clinical trial is currently recruiting patients at four sites located in New Castle.