Common diabetes drug could be repurposed as a treatment for autoimmune disorders

Swansea University researchers have found that a drug commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes can potentially be used in the treatment of autoimmune disorders.

Common diabetes drug could be repurposed as a treatment for autoimmune disorders

Image Credit: Swansea University

Academics at the University’s Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Science have found that the drug, canagliflozin (also known as Invokana), could be used to treat autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus as it targets T-cells, which form an essential component of the immune system. Canagliflozin is a drug that controls blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes, however researchers have found an unexpected role for the drug involving the human immune system.

Existing research has reported that targeting T-cell metabolism in autoimmunity can lead to therapeutic benefits. T-cells are a type of white blood cell that help the body fight infections and diseases, but in autoimmune diseases they have been observed to attack healthy tissues.

The new study, funded by the Medical Research Council and published today (Wednesday 24 May) in the journal Cell Metabolism, found that canagliflozin dampens down T-cell activation, suggesting that the drug could be repurposed as a treatment for T-cell driven autoimmunity.

Our findings are significant as they provide the foundation for the clinical development of canagliflozin for the treatment of certain autoimmune diseases. As the drug is already widely used and has a known safety profile in humans, it could potentially reach clinic quicker than any new drugs developed and bring valuable benefits more swiftly to patients with autoimmune disorders.”

Dr Nick Jones, Senior Author who led the study.

Identifying new roles for drugs that are currently being used in other disease settings is an exciting area of research. Given that our research primarily targets the metabolism of immune cells, we hope that the potential therapeutic benefits of our findings are applicable to a wide range of conditions.”

Ben Jenkins, First Author and Postdoctoral Researcher, Swansea.

The researchers are hopeful that canagliflozin will enter a clinical trial to treat certain autoimmune disorders in the future.

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