Johns Hopkins-MedImmune Collaboration Seeks to Stop Rheumatoid Arthritis Before It Happens

Johns Hopkins-MedImmune Collaboration Seeks to Stop Rheumatoid Arthritis Before It Happens

Felipe Andrade, associate professor of medicine in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Typical treatments for rheumatoid arthritis target symptoms of the disease—namely, the inflammation that results when a patient’s immune system attacks his or her body, particularly the joints.But Felipe Andrade, associate professor of medicine in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, believes the field of medicine can do better. He’s looking for a way to halt a process called citrullination, which turns one type of protein into another that, in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, is attacked by the immune system, causing inflammation.

If citrullination of these proteins could be stopped in these patients, “it would be like putting out the fire before it happens,” Andrade says.

Andrade and his team of Johns Hopkins researchers and students—including Erika Darrah, assistant professor of medicine— are working with a team of researchers from MedImmune to find a way to control or stop citrullination from causing inflammation.

They’re in their second year of a three-year collaboration, and they’re hoping to get closer to developing a therapy or drug that could bring some relief to patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

“We’re not yet at the drug development stage, but we’re trying to find therapeutic opportunities based on what we’re studying,” Andrade says.

They know that patients with rheumatoid arthritis have a specific type of antibody—directed against peptidyl arginine deiminase (PAD) 4—that increases the activity of the enzyme responsible for starting the citrullination process. They want to figure out how that happens and how to stop PAD4 from causing citrullination, explains Andrade, the leader for Johns Hopkins’s part of the collaboration.

The collaboration is an equal partnership. Together, researchers from MedImmune and Johns Hopkins analyze data and make suggestions on next steps.

It’s also a unique opportunity for Johns Hopkins researchers. The drug development industry approaches research with the goal of developing novel therapies—a goal that sometimes gets lost in the academic realm, Andrade explains.

And support from industry gives academic researchers the chance to work on something that, Andrade says, might not otherwise be supported in any other way.
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