The National Institute for Health Research has started the UK’s first commercial trial, funded by Novartis, of a new treatment for Sjogren’s syndrome.
Up to half a million people in the UK are affected by this autoimmune condition. The study, funded by Novartis, utilises the NIHR Translational Research Partnership to bring together the country’s expert investigators in joint and related inflammatory diseases.
The study will test a new antibody treatment for Sjogren’s, a condition where the body’s immune system attacks glands that secrete fluid, such as tears and saliva. It is the second most common autoimmune condition after rheumatoid arthritis, yet it remains under-treated, with only symptomatic relief such as artificial tears available; women account for 90% of cases.
The trial is being managed by the NIHR’s Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure (NOCRI), which was set up by the government to work with life sciences companies on the early development of innovative new treatments.  

George Freeman, the life sciences minister, said the pact “is a great example of the UK pioneering the development of a new treatment for a real unmet need”. He added that “we have created the environment in this country that encourages and supports partnership between industry, academia and the NHS, which is vital to create a test bed to bring better medicines to patients faster.”

The study is being led by Ben Fisher at the University of Birmingham and involves four other NIHR expert centres at Newcastle, King's Health Partners, Queen Mary and University College London who are looking for potential study participants. Dr Fisher noted that Sjogren’s “can cause substantial distress for patients and we currently have no treatment that can significantly tackle this condition”.

Therefore, “by working in collaboration with some of the UK’s leading research centres and companies like Novartis we are aiming to bring new and better treatments into the clinic and provide real benefit,” he added.