Researchers at Swansea University discovered that a medicine frequently used to treat type 2 diabetes might possibly be used to treat autoimmune illnesses. Academics at the University’s Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Science have found that the drug, canagliflozin (also known as Invokana), could be used to treat autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus as it targets T-cells, which form an essential component of the immune system. 

Canagliflozin is a drug that controls blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes, however, researchers have found an unexpected role for the drug involving the human immune system. Existing research has reported that targeting T-cell metabolism in autoimmunity can lead to therapeutic benefits. T-cells are a type of white blood cell that helps the body fight infections and diseases, but in autoimmune diseases, they have been observed to attack healthy tissues.

The new study, funded by the Medical Research Council and published today in the journal Cell Metabolism, found that canagliflozin dampens down T-cell activation, suggesting that the drug could be repurposed as a treatment for T-cell-driven autoimmunity.

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Dr Nick Jones, a senior author who led the study said: “Our findings are significant as they provide the foundation for the clinical development of canagliflozin for the treatment of certain autoimmune diseases. As the drug is already widely used and has a known safety profile in humans, it could potentially reach the clinic quicker than any new drugs developed and bring valuable benefits more swiftly to patients with autoimmune disorders.”

Ben Jenkins, first author and postdoctoral researcher at Swansea said: “Identifying new roles for drugs that are currently being used in other disease settings is an exciting area of research. Given that our research primarily targets the metabolism of immune cells, we hope that the potential therapeutic benefits of our findings are applicable to a wide range of conditions.”

The researchers are hopeful that canagliflozin will enter a clinical trial to treat certain autoimmune disorders in the future. 

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