In a study published online Dec. 3 in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, scientists from the University of Michigan report that a compound called benzodiazepine-423 (Bz-423)---a chemical cousin of the anti-anxiety drugs Valium and Xanax---suppresses cell growth in a model of psoriasis. In psoriasis, cells multiply unchecked, so inhibiting cell growth should help control the disease.
Psoriasis is a life-long genetic condition that affects the skin and joints. More than 4.5 million people in the United States have psoriasis or an associated form of arthritis, and the economic burden of the disease may be as high as $4.3 billion a year, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.
"Currently, the best treatments for skin lesions associated with psoriasis are topical steroids, but the problem with those drugs is that they're not selective for the disease-causing cells. They affect normal cells as well, and repeated use over time can lead to tissue destruction," said Gary Glick, who is the Werner E. Bachmann Collegiate Professor of Chemistry and a professor of biological chemistry in the U-M Medical School. "There are also protein drugs approved for use in treating psoriasis, but those drugs are injected instead of applied topically, which makes them more costly, less convenient and more likely to cause side effects since they are delivered throughout the body."
"What makes our compound particularly exciting is that it has the potential to be applied topically, and it shows very good selectivity for models of the disease-causing cells versus normal cells," Glick said. "So we believe the problems associated with repeated topical steroid use could possibly be alleviated with compounds like this."