Autoimmune Diseases and Allergies

Autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Graves’ disease or auto-immune uveitis arise as a consequence of a hyperactive immune response against substances and tissues normally present in the body. Autoimmune disease can therefore be seen as a breakdown in self-tolerance. Allergic reactions equally involve a hypersensitive reaction of the body’s immune system towards environmental substances that are normally harmless.

An estimated 23.5 million people suffer from auto-immune diseases in the US alone. In women, auto-immune diseases are among the ten leading causes of death in all age groups up to 65 years. More than eighty types of auto-immune diseases exist, with treatment costs rising to 120 billion US dollar in 2008.

Current treatments for autoimmune diseases generally aim to ameliorate the symptoms. Nowadays, patients with severe disease are treated using non-specific suppression of the complete immune system. The use of compounds which suppress the immune system in a general fashion is associated with serious side effects such as increased prevalence of infections, osteoporosis, liver failures, glaucoma’s, cancers and other less severe impacts on daily health such as stomach irritations, nausea, insomnia, mood changes, weight gain, acne, thinning skin and muscle weakness.

Treatment and the patient’s quality of life would greatly improve by targeting the fundamental cause of the disease rather than non-specific immune suppression and symptom treatment. The ultimate aim for treatment is to re-instate self-tolerance to an otherwise innocuous self-antigen by making such treatments as specific for the antigen as possible by using antigen-specific immunotherapy.

Antigen-specific immunotherapy can avoid global immune suppression and therefore maintains the immune response to infectious agents.

Identifying the molecular component towards which these hyperactive immune responses are targeted, is a first step in assessing whether specific antigen specific immunotherapy can be used. Once the molecular target has been discovered, the Apitope platform can design tolerogenic peptides that induce selective T cell tolerance to the target antigen.