Imatinib mesylate (Gleevec; Novartis) is often the treatment of choice for individuals with either chronic myelogenous leukemia or gastrointestinal stromal tumors. Now, in a study appearing online on September 14 in advance of publication in the October print issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers from Stanford University have shown that imatinib can block the development of disease in a mouse model of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), providing hope of a new treatment for RA.
Although there are two documented cases in which individuals taking imatinib to treat their cancer showed clinical improvement in their RA, there had been no study of the effects of imatinib in a mouse pre-clinical model of RA. So, William Robinson and colleagues administered imatinib to mice with an RA-like disease. Imatinib both prevented the onset of disease and the development of established disease. It did this by inhibiting the function of many of the immune cells that contribute to disease in patients with RA. Importantly, imatinib was also shown to inhibit the proliferation of cells taken from the joints of patients with RA. This study indicates that imatinib might provide relief to the many individuals suffering from RA.