New Study: Type 2 Diabetes Drug Could Treat Autoimmune Disorders Like Rheumatoid Arthritis

Man Pouring Drugs into Hand Medicine Aspirin

Canagliflozin, a diabetes drug, may be repurposed to treat autoimmune disorders by modulating T-cell activation, according to Swansea University researchers. This offers a quicker route to clinical application due to its already-established safety profile.

Research undertaken by scholars at Swansea University has discovered that canagliflozin, a drug commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes, may also have potential therapeutic applications for autoimmune conditions.

The investigation conducted by the University’s Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Science indicated that canagliflozin (also known as Invokana) could be effectively used in combating autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus. This is because the drug targets T-cells, a vital part 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 recently published 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.

Dr Nick Jones, 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 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.

Reference: “Canagliflozin impairs T cell effector function via metabolic suppression in autoimmunity” by Benjamin J. Jenkins, Julianna Blagih, Fernando M. Ponce-Garcia, Mary Canavan, Nancy Gudgeon, Simon Eastham, David Hill, Megan M. Hanlon, Eric H. Ma, Emma L. Bishop, April Rees, James G. Cronin, Elizabeth C. Jury, Sarah K. Dimeloe, Douglas J. Veale, Catherine A. Thornton, Karen H. Vousden, David K. Finlay, Ursula Fearon, Gareth W. Jones and Nicholas Jones, 24 May 2023, Cell Metabolism.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2023.05.001

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