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Wednesday 26th June 2019

£1 million charity funding for Birmingham clinical trial into severe Sjögren’s syndrome

24th January 2011

Doctors in Birmingham are planning a UK wide clinical trial of a severe but little-known autoimmune condition called Sjögren’s syndrome, which affects around half a million people in the UK.

In Sjogren’s syndrome the body attacks its own tissues, particularly the tear glands and salivary glands, causing dryness of the mouth and eyes, and also extreme fatigue, and other internal organ involvement.

Now Dr Simon Bowman, a consultant rheumatologist at Selly Oak Hospital, who has a special interest in the syndrome, has been awarded almost £1 million by medical research charity Arthritis Research UK to run a drug trial that he hopes could dramatically improve treatment.

Dr Bowman, who ran a small pilot study into Sjögren’s two years ago, will now recruit up to 110 patients from hospitals around the country onto a full-scale clinical trial, comparing the drug rituximab against placebo in improving dryness and fatigue.

Rituximab is already licensed to treat severe rheumatoid arthritis, and works by attacking the body’s B-cells, which cause inflammation.

“Those of us with an interest in Sjögren’s have been talking about doing a trial like this for some years, so I’m delighted that we are finally getting to do it,” said Dr Bowman, who will be collaborating with Arthritis Research UK Professor of Rheumatology at Leeds University, Paul Emery and the Leeds Clinical Trials Unit; Professor Costantino Pitzalis of Queen Mary, University of London, and other colleagues.

“There is good background research to suggest that rituximab is worth looking at, and that this is a sensible trial to be doing,” adds Dr Bowman. “Our earlier pilot study showed that treating patients with a single course of the drug showed some improvement in fatigue, and an earlier Dutch study which looked at 30 patients also had resulted in improvement in fatigue levels and also the dryness symptoms.”

If the five-year trial is a success, Dr Bowman hopes that the manufacturers of rituximab, Roche, will take it forward to a commercial trial with a view to gaining a UK licence. There is a link between lymphoma and Sjögren’s, with patients at increased risk of developing lymphoma. Rituximab was first licensed to treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.


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