One session at our recent scientific conference Forum for Discovery was devoted to meeting the need for new approaches to lupus and the challenges faced in “translating” what is learned by researchers into therapies that will help patients with lupus.
Gerald Nepom, MD, PhD, Co-Chair of LRFs Scientific Advisory Board and Director of the Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason in Seattle, Washington, kicked off a discussion of how to translate findings in the laboratory on the mechanisms of lupus to new therapies for lupus. He said, “it is clear that new therapeutic approaches in lupus are desperately needed and it will take the best minds in academia and industry to find them.”
One of those best minds presenting at the conference was Randolph Noelle, PhD, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, and Chief Scientific Officer of ImmuNext, Inc. Dr. Noelle presented the results of work partly funded by his 2014 Distinguished Innovator Award. He and his team had discovered a molecule called VISTA that serves as an “off” switch for the immune system in mice. With the Distinguished Innovator Award funding, they were able to take the next step toward using VISTA to treat lupus in pre-clinical mouse models.
His company ImmuNext, Inc. is developing antibodies to mediate immune regulation via VISTA. Dr. Noelle noted that “researchers have shown that in pre-clincial animal models, the VISTA pathway protects susceptible hosts from developing fatal lupus and may prevent organ damage in lupus.”
In 2016, ImmuNext entered into a collaboration with Hoffman-La Roche Inc. to develop and commercialize therapeutics that agonize the VISTA signaling pathway. In a press release on the agreement, the company said “VISTA is a powerful immunoregulatory molecule that negatively regulates immunity and is critical for limiting autoimmune disease in pre-clinical models. VISTA agonists hold promise in treating patients with resistance to current standard of care.”