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Researchers: Anti-Rejection Drug Promising for Immune Disease

August 24, 1991

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ An experimental drug that helps block rejection of transplanted organs shows signs of promise in treatment of some kidney disease, skin disorders and other immune problems, researchers said Saturday.

The researchers presented results of preliminary studies at the First International Congress on the drug FK506, which has saved the lives of transplant recipients.

In the studies, FK506 rapidly cleared psoriasis, a debilitating skin condition that causes unsightly lesions in about 3 percent of Americans, said the researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

The drug also improved kidney function in some patients with nephrotic syndrome, a kidney disorder characterized by elevated blood cholesterol.

Tests on insulin-dependent or juvenile diabetics have been started at the Pittsburgh center, but it’s too soon to evaluate those results.

″It’s still the beginning,″ said Dr. Jean-Francois Bach, professor of immunology at Neckor Hospital in Paris. ″The number of patients concerned is so high and the results we have obtained so good I think it is very important ... to assess the effectiveness of FK506 on autoimmune diseases.″

More than 40 illnesses have been identified as autoimmune diseases, in which the immune system works against the body, Bach said. The diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus and Crohn’s disease, which causes inflammation of the intestinal tract.

FK506 blocks rejection of transplanted organs by suppressing a type of white blood cell known as a T-cell, part of the immune system. Researchers believe the drug can intervene in autoimmune diseases in the same way.

Cyclosporine, the drug traditionally taken by transplant patients, has also shown some promise in studies of autoimmune diseases.

Bach said drugs that suppress the immune system carry threats, such as the possibility of tumor development, and must be taken continuously to sustain remission.

In one study, nine patients with severe chronic psoriasis and three with pyoderma gangrenosum, another skin disorder characterized by open ulcers, showed dramatic improvement after taking FK506 for one week, said Dr. Brian Jegasothy, chairman of the department of dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh.

In another study, seven people with the kidney disease nephrotic syndrome took FK506. Three went into remission and three improved 50 percent, said Dr. Jerry McCauley, assistant professor of medicine and surgery at the university. One patient didn’t improve.

Dr. Patricia Carroll, assistant professor of medicine and surgery at the university, said five people just diagnosed with diabetes have joined a study of FK506 that eventually will include 60 patients.

Two patients have quit taking insulin, but Carroll said it is too soon to say whether the FK506 caused the remission. Some patients are taking placebos.

Research on FK506, once limited in the United States to the University of Pittsburgh, has spread to other universities. Other experiments are underway in England, France, Japan and Sweden.

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