Compound Holds Promise for Lupus

Chemical in Anxiety Medicine Treats Kidney Problems With No Side

From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 16, 2002 -- A chemical related to anti-anxiety medications like Valium and Xanax has shown promise in treating lupus. The discovery could lead to safer and more effective new drugs for managing lupus and other autoimmune disorders.

Lupus is a disease in which the mechanisms that normally prevent the immune system from attacking components of one's own body are defective. Because researchers do not yet understand what triggers lupus, it has been very difficult to develop treatments for the disease.

"The best available therapies for lupus haven't changed for many, many years," says lead researcher Gary D. Glick, PhD, professor of biological chemistry with the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute, in a news release.

Drugs developed many years ago to treat cancer are the mainstay of treating kidney inflammation, the most common cause of death in people with lupus. These drugs -- given in combination with immune-suppressing steroids -- kill immune cells. However, because they are not targeted toward specific cells, they also kill healthy cells, causing serious side effects.

For some patients, the drugs are simply not effective.

The chemical compound discussed in Glick's paper, called Bz-423, kills only those immune cells that the body no longer needs, causing them to commit suicide.

In a series of experiments, researchers found that Bz-423 -- found in a type of anxiety medicine called benzodiazapines -- targets a protein inside cells. To test the effectiveness of Bz-423, Glick and his team gave the compound to mice with a condition similar to human lupus. At the end of the treatment period, only 16% of treated mice had lupus-related kidney disease compared with 60% of untreated mice.

Also, the treated mice showed none of the side effects caused by current lupus drugs.

"The results suggest that Bz-423 ... may have a significant therapeutic potential for lupus," says Glick. There is also evidence that Bz-423 may be useful in treating some types of cancer, as well as other autoimmune diseases.

Although Bz-423 is structurally similar to anti-anxiety drugs such as Valium and Xanax, subtle structural differences give it some advantages. For example, Bz-423 does not cause drowsiness or lead to addiction.

Because benzodiazapines belong to one of the most well studied families of drugs, Glick says clinical trials for treatment of lupus should be expedited. -->

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