* Anti-inflammatory antibody shows promise in early studies
* Experimental drug blocks cytokine protein called IL-17A
* Novartis says compound could compete with anti-TNF class
By Kate Kelland
LONDON, Oct 6 (Reuters) - An experimental new antibody drug from Novartis NOVN.VX has proved safe and effective in treating three diseases involving inflammation -- scaly skin, arthritis and a sore eye condition, data showed on Wednesday.
Novartis researchers said the early-stage trials suggested the drug, called secukinumab, could eventually rival a class of drugs called TNF-blockers that also treat arthritis and other types of inflammation in various autoimmune diseases.
"Of course, the differentiation to anti-TNF drugs will have to be studied, but based on the pathways and what we know about the science from our pre-clinical work, one of our hopes ... is that this (drug) should have a better infection safety profile," said Dhavalkumar Patel of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research in Switzerland, one of the senior scientists working on the trials.
Small proteins called cytokines are key drivers of inflammation and the IL-17A cytokine is a prime suspect in inflammatory diseases, but its exact role remains unclear, the scientists explained in a report of their study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
To see if blocking IL-17A would reduce inflammation, Novartis researchers in Europe and the United States used secukinumab to fight IL-17A in 60 patients with rheumatoid arthritis -- swelling of joints in the hands and feet -- or with the skin disease psoriasis, or eye inflammation called uveitis.
All three diseases involve inflammation and are thought to have an autoimmune component, in which the body's immune system uses inflammation as a way to defend itself from its own cells, attacking its own tissue.
In a summary of the results of the Phase I/IIa studies, the researchers said they found improvement in all three groups.
The psoriasis patients had reduced scaly skin patches and lower production of inflammatory proteins, the joints of rheumatoid arthritis patients were less swollen, and uveitis patients had less eye inflammation and minor vision improvement.
"These encouraging results set the stage for larger clinical trials of secukinumab as a potential treatment for inflammatory diseases," Patel and colleagues wrote in the study.
Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin disorder which varies in severity from minor patches to complete body coverage.
It and arthritis can currently be treated with drugs that inhibit a protein known as tumour necrosis factor, or TNF, such as Amgen's (AMGN.O) Enbrel, Johnson & Johnson's (JNJ.N) Remicade and Abbott Laboratories' (ABT.N) Humira.
Patel said Novartis was also investigating secukinumab in other diseases, including psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, two other conditions associated with psoriasis and arthritis.
"We're seeing good results in other diseases too, so our hope is that this particular compound will have a lot of indications," he said. (Editing by Louise Heavens)