Partly funded by the Lupus Research Alliance, new results presented at the European Congress of Rheumatology (EULAR) 2019 suggest that some potential cancer treatments may also help patients with lupus.
Dr. Amr Sawalha of the University of Pittsburgh and colleagues have discovered a similarity between immune cells in lupus and some kinds of cancers. Certain cancer cells produce too much of a protein called EZH2 that helps control which genes are turned on or off. In patients with lupus, EZH2 may promote inflammation and help to trigger disease flares.
Dr. Sawalha and his team wanted to find out whether they could prevent EZH2’s harmful effects. In their new study funded by a Lupus Research Alliance Novel Research Grant, they gave mice with lupus a molecule that blocks EZH2. The mice survived longer and produced less autoantibodies that attack self-targets and tissues, which is characteristic of lupus. They also had less kidney damage and reduced swelling of the spleen and lymph nodes.
Clinical trials are now testing several drugs that block EZH2 as treatments for cancer, and Dr. Sawalha’s work suggests that these drugs could also work in patients with lupus.
“We hope to begin clinical trials of EZH2 inhibitors in patients with lupus,” says Dr. Sawalha.