Arthritis drug shows promise in combatting protein that causes aortic valve stenosis

Development of a drug to help those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis may prove to be quite a happy accident for aging individuals with hardening heart valves. Researchers from Vanderbilt University announced promising results in examining a monoclonal antibody’s ability to combat aortic valve stenosis.

The results, published June 12 in Circulation, could be an important step toward fighting the condition that affects a quarter of Americans over the age of 65, who previously only had surgical replacement of valves as an option.

“Very elderly patients’ bodies can’t handle that,” said first author Cyndi Clark, research assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Vanderbilt. “I hope to see an earlier treatment option available within the next decade.”

The drug, known as SYN0012, appeared to bind to cadherin-11 (CDH-11), a protein that causes the hardening of valve tissue.

“The antibody we're working with blocks fibroblasts from becoming the active type that leads to disease. It keeps them from becoming inflamed,” said W. David Merryman, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Vanderbilt. "We believe there is potential for using this drug at the first sign of valve disease to prevent the progression. You likely cannot reverse the damage, but we believe the drug can prevent it."

The drug is in human clinical trials for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. After those are complete, Merryman hopes to gain permission to run clinical trials for uses in heart valve disease. His work is funded by a $5.3 million award from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.