Viatem developing rheumatoid arthritis therapeutic target

University of Birmingham Enterprise has announced the formation of a new spinout company, Viatem Ltd, to develop and exploit the therapeutic potential of PEPITEM (Peptide Inhibitor of Trans-Endothelial Migration).

The University of Birmingham reports the announcement coincides with the presentation of new research showing that synthetic PEPITEM can prevent or delay the onset of rheumatoid arthritis in animal models of disease, and restore regulation of white blood cell migration in human tissues.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects over twenty million people worldwide. It results in extensive damage to joints and causes significant disability. Currently there is no curative treatment.

PEPITEM is a 14 amino acid peptide, and a naturally occurring mediator in the adiponectin pathway which controls the recruitment of immune cells into inflamed tissues. The pathway was discovered by researchers at the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences at the University of Birmingham, and described in their seminal paper in Nature Medicine in 2015.

The adiponectin pathway is believed to be pivotal in protecting inflamed tissues from excessive damage, and is disordered in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and type 1 diabetes, all of which are characterised by chronic inflammation that destroys the person’s own tissues.

Dr Jonathan Watkins, Head of IP at University of Birmingham Enterprise, said it was the foundational nature of the science that first attracted the attention of the university’s technology transfer and commercialisation teams. He said “It is extremely rare that a completely new regulatory pathway is discovered, and that it is possible to modulate it through an identified target.”

Dr James Wilkie, CEO of University of Birmingham Enterprise, said “Despite substantial innovation over the last few decades, there are still significant unmet needs in rheumatoid arthritis treatment. We are delighted to be commercialising this novel therapeutic target which is supported by a robust and increasing body of evidence.”

New research, presented at the Latin-American Association of Immunology in Cancun showed the administration of synthetic PEPITEM:

  • When administered prophylactically there was inhibition of the onset of collagen induced arthritis (CIA) in mouse models (measured by clinical score, autoantibody, bone erosion and incidence) compared to controls
  • When administered therapeutically there was reduction in disease severity in CIA mouse models (measured by clinical score, ankle and footpad thickness, leukocyte infiltration, bone erosion, and autoantibody) compared to controls
  • There was improved regulation of T cell recruitment in ex vivo human peripheral lymphocytes taken from people with newly presenting rheumatoid arthritis (measured by T cell migration and response to adiponectin)

The University of Birmingham has licensed the technology to Viatem. The university is a shareholder in the company, which has received funding from Innovate UK, the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network and the University of Birmingham’s Enterprising Birmingham Fund.

The researchers will be presenting further data at EULAR 2018.

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