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Two New Psoriasis Treatments May Be Ready for Human Testing

Lab studies show promise for different approaches

THURSDAY, Dec. 16, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Two separate approaches to treating psoriasis, a painful condition that attacks the skin, have shown promise in the lab and may be rerady to try on humans.

The first is an experimental drug called benzodiazepine-423 (Bz-423) that's a chemical cousin of the anti-anxiety drugs Valium and Xanax, a new University of Michigan study finds.

In human skin cultures designed to model psoriasis, the researchers found that Bz-423 suppressed cell growth. Psoriasis is characterized by unchecked cell growth.

"Currently, the best treatments for skin lesions associated with psoriasis are topical steroids, but the problem with those drugs is that they're not selective for the disease-causing cells. They affect normal cells as well, and repeated use over time can lead to tissue destruction," Gary Glick, a professor of biological chemistry, said in a prepared statement.

"What makes our compound particularly exciting is that it has the potential to be applied topically, and it shows very good selectivity for models of the disease-causing cells versus normal cells. So we believe the problems associated with repeated topical steroid use could possibly be alleviated with compounds like this," Glick said.

He and his colleagues hope to begin human clinical trials with Bz-423 in the near future.

Glick is a shareholder in GMP Immunotherapies Inc., which signed an exclusive patent license and a sponsored research agreement with the University of Michigan to develop Bz-423 and other compounds.

The second study goes to the cause of psoriasis itself. A Dec. 12 news release from The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston says scientists have identified a protein called STAT3 that initiates psoriasis when the body's immune system is activated to fight off a wound, burn or some other invasion.

The scientists actually developed a skin cream that cured the itching, redness and scaling that psoriasis caused in the study mice. The ointment can also prevent recurrence, they said.

John DiGiovanni, Ph.D., the study's lead investigator and director of M.D. Anderson's Department of Carcinogenesis, said in the news release, "We may have found an entirely new treatment option for psoriasis." The study appears in the January 2005 issue of the journal Nature Medicine.

Until now, the cause of psoriasis has remained a mystery. According to the news release, patches of skin that become inflamed are most often the scalp, elbows, knees, and lower back. Treatments have been most effective in slowing down its progress, but nothing exists to cure psoriasis, DiGiovanni says.

"We may have found the link - the change in keratinocytes [skin cells that make keratin, the substance that comprises hair, nails and skin] that cooperates with the immune system cells necessary for development of human psoriasis."

More information

The American Academy of Dermatology has more about psoriasis.

SOURCES: University of Michigan, news release, December 2004; news release, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Dec. 12, 2004
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