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strategic focus. It is more specifically focused now on developing drugs for immune disorders that are very severe, “and in which existing therapies are old and unproven, and from our standpoint, not very effective,” Mendlein says. “Our fundamental thesis is that almost everyone in the industry is working on the big signals in inflammation. But obviously, your body has ways of modulating the immune system on its own. We’re trying to leverage what nature has done over millions of years of evolution in primates.”
In the statement scheduled for release today, Mendlein adds, “The aTyr team believes these mechanisms [of modulating inflammation] will benefit patients with grave outcomes in ways that antibody and small molecule approaches can not because physiocrines evolved to naturally balance the immune system to resolve inflammation rather than being a designed inhibitor of pro-inflammatory pathways.”
Mendlein would not identify the immune disorder targeted by aTyr’s lead drug candidate. But he acknowledged that sarcoidosis could serve as an example of the type of disease aTyr is targeting, in which the immune system becomes “deranged.” He also mentioned that Lupus was “too big” for the company—indicating that aTyr is focused, at least initially, on addressing more niche markets.
Another clue to the company’s likely targets lies in a presentation that aTyr’s Kyle Chiang delivered in November at the American College of Rheumatology’s annual meeting in Washington D.C. on the “Characterization of Jo-1 Autoantibodies in Patients with Inflammatory Myopathy and Interstitial Lung Disease.”
Inflammatory myopathy and interstitial lung disease are progressive and debilitating immune disorders characterized by antibodies that attack tRNA synthetase—in most cases by Jo-1 autoantibodies. While corticosteroids and other immunosuppressive drugs are often used to treat these diseases, no specific drugs are approved, and the disease progression is often fatal.