The modified drug, which would be injected directly into arthritic joints, could last for several weeks rather than just the few hours the unmodified drug would last, the researchers said.
In their study, the researchers modified a drug called interleukin-1 receptor antagonist (IL1RA). They found that the drug, which is a protein, could be improved by attaching a second protein that clumps together at normal body temperatures. The combined drug likewise would assemble into clumps in the body to serve as "drug depots" that gradually release active drug particles, the researchers said.
"Although the conventional drug is being used for autoimmune diseases, no one yet knows how much of it would be needed to achieve a therapeutic effect for osteoarthritis," said Lori Setton, associate professor of biomedical engineering and surgery. "Current estimates suggest it would require perhaps two injections per week of the unmodified drug.
"With this advance, we believe treatments could go from twice a week to perhaps twice a month, and that would be a huge clinical gain," she said.
By remaining at the site of disease, the drug also might cause fewer negative side effects than the unmodified drug, the researchers added.
The team reported an initial proof-of-concept study on Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Biomedical Engineering Society annual meeting, in Chicago. The team also has reported related findings online in the Journal of Controlled Release.
The work was supported by a Coulter Foundation Translational Research Partnership award to the biomedical engineering department at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering, and by the National Institutes of Health and a United Negro College Fund