Top 10 Scleroderma Stories of 2017
Over the past year, Scleroderma News has brought you news on scleroderma therapeutic developments, clinical trials, research, and events. While we look forward to bringing you more news in 2018, we would like to sum up 2017 by bringing you the Top 10 most-read scleroderma stories, reminding you, our readers, of what mattered most in the past year.
Corbus Pharmaceuticals’ drug candidate Anabasum was shown to improve skin symptoms in patients with scleroderma who participated in a Phase 2 trial. Later updates from the trial also showed that patients’ arthritis severity improved. The positive study results prompted the company to extend the trial, and plan for a Phase 3 trial.
A story that drew plenty of attention was about a study that found that looking at scleroderma symptoms in people who have yet to progress to full-blown disease may help improve disease monitoring and care. Researchers looked at people with “very early” or “early” scleroderma signs. They discovered that those in the “early” group were more likely to progress to scleroderma compared to people with “very early” signs. This information allows physicians to closely monitor patients who are likely to develop scleroderma.
A study found that — in addition to the tissue fibrosis characterizing scleroderma — such patients also may develop calcinosis. This is a condition in which calcium is deposited in tissues throughout the body. The condition, linked to pain and inflammation, was more common in older patients, those who had been ill for longer, and patients with limited cutaneous scleroderma.
Data from two clinical trials found that CellCept (mycophenolate mofetil), a drug used to prevent organ rejection in transplanted patients, improved lung disease in patients with scleroderma. Patients treated with the compound improved their lung gas exchange and had less shortness of breath. Meanwhile, their skin disease also improved.
One trigger for abnormal immune cell behavior in patients with scleroderma may be infection with Epstein-Barr virus. These cells, called monocytes and macrophages, usually are activated during infections. But they also are found in scleroderma patients’ tissues, where they produce inflammatory factors. Researchers have not known why these cells become activated in scleroderma, but the study suggested it may be a consequence of the viral infection.
The prospect of Anabasum to improve scleroderma symptoms lands another spot on readers’ top 10 list. In April 2017, Corbus Pharmaceuticals announced it will launch a Phase 3 trial of the treatment. The decision was supported by data from a Phase 2 study, which showed that Anabasum improved patients’ skin disease and other disease symptoms. If the Phase 3 trial is successful, Corbus said it plans to seek regulatory approval for Anabasum as a scleroderma treatment.
This study found that many scleroderma patients have been exposed to heavy metals — patients had more heavy metals in hair analyses than healthy controls. Interestingly, some metals were linked to scleroderma in men, while some were related mainly to female disease. The findings prompted scientists to propose heavy metal tests to be part of diagnostic evaluations of scleroderma patients.
A small study found that a large proportion of scleroderma patients have nail abnormalities. Patients who had nail problems were more likely to have digital ulcers, calcium deposits, and finger blood vessel anomalies, which made the research team suggest that nail abnormalities are linked to more severe disease. Researchers suggested that nail examinations should be included in scleroderma diagnostic procedures.
The second most-read story of 2017 revealed that scleroderma patients often have an abnormal gut flora. Two groups of patients — one in the U.S. and one in Norway — had lower numbers of bacteria known to protect the body from inflammation. They also had higher numbers of disease-causing bacteria in their guts. Researchers said that, while the finding needs to be further investigated, it is the first time research demonstrates that an abnormal gut flora may be involved in scleroderma.
Last year’s most read story was, unfortunately, not a hopeful one. Rather, the story covered research that demonstrated death rates in scleroderma may be underestimated, since many studies do not take into account that many patients die early on in the disease course. Men and patients with diffuse disease were particularly prone to die early. The insight made researchers urge the scientific community to establish a large prospective study to better understand mortality in scleroderma.
Scleroderma News hopes these news stories, along with our ongoing reporting in 2018, will contribute to educating, informing, and improving the lives of patients living with scleroderma.
We wish all our readers a happy and inspiring 2018.