Curing articular rheumatism with a custom immunotherapy

GO-Bio 6 – Prof. Dr. Harald Burkhardt – Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME, Project Group for Translational Medicine and Pharmacology TMP, Frankfurt am Main

Grafik: rheumatisches Fußgelenk

Sebastian Kaulitzki - Fotolia

Recipient: Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME
Funding: GO-Bio Phase I (01.04.2015 - 30.06.2018, 3.440.708 Euro)


The spasmodic pains in the joints, spine, muscles and tendons that are caused by rheumatism have the effect of dramatically changing the lives of those affected. The treatment of inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) usually involves the non-specific suppression of the imbalanced immune system. While this will often slow the progression of the disease, it rarely results in lasting alleviation or a complete cure.

Harald Burkhardt and his team are committed to the development of a personalised, lastingly effective and well-tolerated therapy for RA. In the Fraunhofer IME project group, the Frankfurt-based researchers are pursuing a form of immunotherapy that is tailored to the respective patient and which will dampen overreactions on the side of the immune system. Under the working title ‘aidCure’, the first phase of GO-Bio will encompass the biotechnological production of protein complexes comprised of so-called MHC class II molecules and articular cartilage molecules. The key idea is for these protein molecules to nurture the self-tolerance of the immune system. As a consequence of this ‘re-education’, the body’s own joint structures – previously mistakenly identified as intruders – will be left alone.

The technique has shown great promise in animal models. Burkhardt and his team are planning to push forward the development of the potential immunotherapeutic all the way up to clinical trials on humans. As is customary for a personalised therapy, the complexes will be matched to the characteristic immunogenetic disposition of the patient. As a starting point, the researchers have chosen a specific variant of MHC Class II molecules that is particularly common in individuals affected by RA and is found in around half of all European patients. The aidCure team is assuming that this therapy principle could also be applied to other autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.