June 8, 2008 / 5:03 PM / 11 years ago

Cancer drug Velcade might work in lupus: study

LONDON (Reuters) - Velcade, a drug used to treat cancer, might also work against the chronic autoimmune disease lupus, German researchers said on Sunday.

Velcade was developed by Millennium Pharmaceuticals, a U.S. biotech company that was bought two months ago by Takeda Pharmaceutical Co Ltd for $8.8 billion in the biggest overseas acquisition by a Japanese drugmaker.

The injected medicine is currently given to patients with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the white blood cells. But tests on mice suggest it may also fight systemic lupus erythematosus, the research team reported in the journal Nature Medicine.

Using two mouse strains with lupus-like disease, Reinhard Voll and colleagues at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg showed that Velcade blocked autoantibody production and prolonged survival of the mice.

As a result, Velcade — known generically as bortezomib — could represent a new and highly efficient treatment strategy for antibody-mediated diseases like lupus, they said.

“Careful clinical studies should be initiated,” they concluded.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease characterized by inflammation of the joints, skin, major organs and central nervous system as the immune system attacks healthy tissues and cells. The disease tends to flare up and wane, making it difficult to assess the effectiveness of any treatment.

It has been more than 30 years since a new drug has been approved for lupus and many drug companies have failed in attempts to develop a successful treatment.

Existing therapy, involving a variety of immunosuppressive and cytotoxic drugs, is generally considered inadequate.

Velcade had global sales of $800 million last year. It is jointly marketed in the United States and other countries with Johnson & Johnson.

Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Louise Ireland

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