Arthritis Drug May Treat Kidney Disease, Study Says

A new MGH study found that a drug previously used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, may be helpful in treating kidney disease.

Pill bottle image via shutterstock

Pill bottle image via shutterstock

A study conducted by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and published in The New England Journal of Medicine has found that the drug Orencia which has previously only been prescribed to treat rheumatoid arthritis, may help treat the most common form of kidney disease, focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS).

FSGS is the formation of scar tissue around the kidneys’ main filtering system. It blocks the production of podocyte cells which are crucial for kidney function. The cause of FSGS is unknown, although some patients appear to inherit it, and despite the effectiveness of immunosuppressant drugs previously used to treat this disease, the long term side effects make them impractical. Most patients who are diagnosed with FSGS are also battling other chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. FSGS is the most common reason for kidney failure and for kidney transplants.

Five patients who were diagnosed with FSGS, took Orencia as part of their treatment for the purposes of this study. The drug halted the source of FSGS and four of the five patients were able to keep their transplanted kidneys.

Researchers found that the key ingredient in Orencia, abatacept, inhibits the production of malignant molecules in podocyte cells which prevents kidney leakage and ultimately kidney failure.

In all five patients of the study, FSGS went into remission as a result of doses of Orencia. Two of these five have only needed one dose to stay in remission for four years, while the other two required another dose after the first few weeks, but have been in remission for almost a year. The fifth patient, who was diagnosed with a treatment-resistant form of FSGS and who had been on immunosuppressant drugs that increased her risk of kidney failure, was able to stay in remission for a year with monthly doses.

Dr. Peter Mundel, from the MGH Department of Nephrology and senior author of the study, said in a press release:

“We identified abatacept as the first personalized, targeted treatment for kidney disease and specifically for FSGS, a devastating and largely untreatable disease. We also identified a biomarker that helps us discern which patients are most likely to benefit from therapy with abatacept.”

Further testing is underway to see what other similar diseases, like diabetic kidney failure, abatacept can help to treat.