Dr Asif Iqbal, Professor Ed Rainger and Dr Helen McGettrick
From left to right: Dr Asif Iqbal, Professor Ed Rainger and Dr Helen McGettrick

Professor Ed Rainger and Dr Asif Iqbal from the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences (ICVS), along with Dr Helen McGettrick from the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing, will lead the project, which is one of ten new autoimmunity research projects funded by the partnership of the Lorna and Yuti Chernajovsky Biomedical Research Foundation and Connect Immune Research.

The project, titled “The use of PEPITEM and its novel peptide-mimetics for the treatment of autoimmune and chronic inflammatory diseases,” is to improve patient outcomes who have autoimmune conditions and ultimately to find a cure for these diseases. Current treatments target the processes that cause the symptoms of autoimmune conditions but fail to effectively cure the disease.

The project’s strategy is to target a pathway, which naturally limits immune cells getting into the tissues in healthy individuals. This pathway doesn’t always function correctly in people with autoimmune diseases, leading to an exaggerated inflammatory response. In the longer-term, the researchers aim to develop a drug based on a molecule called PEPITEM that can restore the function of the pathway in patients. The findings aim to provide a new approach to the clinical management of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and other immune-mediated inflammatory diseases, allowing personalised medicine based on restoring the function of this pathway.

Ed Rainger, Professor of Chronic Inflammation and Director of Research at the Institute of Cardiovascular Science (ICVS), explained that “PEPITEM is a fascinating peptide as it regulates inflammation in many contexts and may be important in regulating the normal inflammatory response in healthy people. However, when its functions are disturbed, excessive inflammation occurs and this may be relevant to many immune mediated inflammatory diseases. This grant will allow us to look at the effects of replacing PEPITEM in a number of very different diseases and will provide proof of concept that a single therapeutic agent may be able to treat diseases of very different origins.”

In all autoimmune conditions, immune systems attack healthy cells in the body, causing symptoms that have the potential to severely limit people’s lives. They affect an estimated four million people in the UK – equivalent to more than six per cent of the population – but are currently incurable. Examples include type 1 diabetes, coeliac disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and alopecia. Although these conditions affect different parts of the body, it is now known from observing commonalities that they are somehow linked, and that better understanding this link will pave the way to improved treatments for all autoimmune conditions.

The ten research projects will receive a total of £1 million from the Lorna and Yuti Chernajovsky Biomedical Research Foundation and Connect Immune Research, a coalition of immune-related medical research charities. The ultimate aim of this initiative is to deliver significant new investment to confront the UK’s high prevalence of autoimmunity and develop new treatments for multiple autoimmune conditions, faster