Research of Tomorrow Starts Today
While the end game of psoriatic disease research is ultimately to find a cure, along the way researchers inevitably uncover ways to improve the lives of those with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. As a patient myself, I am always looking for ways to make my life easier and ensure better outcomes of my autoimmune diseases. But sometimes, I take for granted the processes that lead to these great discoveries. Sometimes I get too focused on the result and don’t fully appreciate all of the science, time, energy, and probably sleepless nights researchers spend to give us a better life.
I reached out to Michael Siegel, Ph.D., Senior Vice President of Research and Clinical Affairs at the National Psoriasis Foundation(NPF), hoping to get some insight and a general overview about psoriatic research. What I got was so much more.
Dr. Siegel said NPF has funded more than $17 million in psoriatic disease research and $2.49 million during 2017 alone. “That’s our highest total ever. We’re very excited and really proud of that,” he said.
Dr. Siegel said that in often in the search for new treatments, at the beginning, there might be 10,000 potential drug candidates, which in time, get whittled down to a few. If we are lucky, one new drug emerges. He said this same idea is true for psoriatic disease, too.
Dr. Siegel explained that in the very beginning, there is a lot of discovery science. Researchers work hard to find new potential targets and pathways, which once identified will allow them to intervene, reshape or offer new ways to deliver what researchers know will work. “It’s like a big sea of potential therapies that researchers work hard to refine into a handful of approved treatment options,” he said.
He said that even though there is a lot of risk in the early stages of research, it is critical to take the first step fuel what ultimately could become a new treatment. He said that NPF looks to fund the most innovative research that could lead to a cure or treatment. Therefore, the NPF tends to support the early stages of high-risk, high-reward projects because getting these research projects started is a critical step on the path to finding a cure.
Dr. Siegel said this is an exciting time in psoriatic disease research, which is often focused on the immune system, genetics and how psoriasis impacts other diseases. “There are a lot of unanswered questions, but at least we have a good idea of what those questions are,” he said.
While he said all psoriatic disease research is exciting, he pointed out two specific noteworthy projects:
- Amy Paller, M.D. at Northwestern University, is studying ways topical nanoparticles in a gel or ointment can be used to target the same pathways as biologics to treat psoriasis. Since these topical nanoparticles are only applied to the skin to target the immune system involved in inflammation, side effects may be minimized when compared to biologics that target the whole body. Dr. Paller is investigating whether these nanoparticles can improve psoriasis symptoms by targeting IL-17, without spreading to the rest of the body. In addition, many biologics also use injections or IV infusions to deliver the medication, which is a turn-off for many psoriasis patients. These patients may welcome a topical alternative.
- Lam (Alex) Tsoi, Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, heads a project aimed to make it much easier to diagnose psoriatic arthritis by identifying a genetic biomarker for psoriatic arthritis. If successful, this work would provide a genetic screening tool to predict the onset of psoriatic arthritis. This is especially important, given that waiting even six months after symptoms appear to begin treating psoriatic arthritis may cause irreversible joint damage.
Biomarkers and Personalized Medicine
Like with Dr. Tsoi’s project, much research focuses on biomarkers. Dr. Siegel explained that a biomarker could take many forms, one of which may be a genetic signature that can help predict the likelihood of a person developing a disease, how a disease will progress, or the severity of a specific disease.
Dr. Siegel said an exciting trend in research is personalized medicine. “Biomarkers have the potential to tell health care providers what type of psoriasis a patient has, how they will respond to specific medications, and what therapy will bring the best outcome. The hope is that with enough research, a simple blood test can yield these results and more.
From advances in smartphones to autonomous vehicles to new ways to connect patients via social media, technology has really impacted our daily lives. Lucky for psoriatic patients, technology also benefits researchers by allowing them to collect data and analyze it far more quickly than ever before, which can ultimately speed up the entire research process.
“In terms of psoriatic disease, our understanding of the disease itself has really changed a ton over the past 50 years. We had no idea 50 years ago that the immune system was even involved. We thought it was just a skin disease. … Now we know there is much more beneath the surface, and a lot of that understanding is because we are able to do research in different ways,” he said.