Researchers said Wednesday they may have found genetic markers that accurately predict who is at risk of developing severe osteoarthritis, a key step in efforts to fine-tune drug therapies to fight the disease.
The study at the New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases and Duke University tried to measure individual differences in the genetic material that works to block immune system proteins from attacking the cartilage cushions between joints. Three common variations of the blocking agents — known as interleukin-1 receptor antagonists, or IL-1RAs — showed a strong correlation to the severity and progress of osteoarthritis in test subjects, making them a good indicator for the disease.
Genotyping for the study was provided by Interleukin Genetics Inc. (NYSE:ILI). The Waltham, Mass.-based diagnostics firm previously identified genetic patterns leading to over-production of interleukin-1 as well as other genetic markers predictive of progressive osteoarthritis.
Researchers involved with the study said the results should lead to improved therapies, explaining that clinical trials of potential drug treatments were often hamstrung in the past by using the wrong test subjects.
“Many trials for osteoarthritis therapies have failed due to the inability to identify the group at highest risk for progression over short periods of time,” said Duke’s Dr. Virginia Byers Kraus. “The identification of these variations in the IL-1 receptor antagonist gene may help release this major roadblock to developing more effective drugs.”
Company officials also cheered the study results.
“We’re excited at the potential for clinical use of our genetic biomarkers to aid drug companies in the development of a treatment of this crippling disease,” chief scientific officer Ken Kornman said in prepared remarks.
In addition to genotype services for drug and healthcare companies, Interleukin Genetics is working to develop its Inherent Health brand of individualized genetic tests. Limited sales of a test kit to identify genetic markers for weight gain and metabolism began this summer and the company is also prepping genetic tests for heart and bone health and periodontal disease. Roughly two-thirds of its $328,000 in third-quarter revenues came from an ongoing research and development contract with Alticor Inc., the parent company of Amway consumer products.
Alticor, through an affiliate, owns a 59 percent stake in Interleukin Genetics, tracing back to its $7 million investment in the company in March 2003.
Results from the osteoarthritis study were published online Wednesday in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases. The study drew on 130 older adults, all with moderate osteoarthritis in at least one knee. Researchers screened out test subjects with other forms of arthritis or cancer and those who had received corticosteroids or bilateral knee replacements in the past.
They also factored in the relative age of each subject, noting that the severity of the disease tends to rise as people get older.