If you had a chronic autoimmune disease, like Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, or psoriasis, what types of treatments would you seek? Would you swallow the eggs of a pig parasite?
The Massachusetts-based company Coronado Biosciences think you would.
The company is developing a new class of treatments to fight these and other autoimmune disorders. They take the parasite eggs from the excrement of pigs, and suspend them in a tablespoon of saline solution, so that victims of these disorders can swallow them. The drug is called trichuris suis ova (TSO).
The parasite is the whipworm, which can live in pigs and reproduce without harming their host. In humans, the same eggs could live for a maximum of two weeks. Research indicates that the eggs would stop the body's immune system from harming itself.
The company is preparing a trial of 220 people with Crohn's disease. The participants will receive a dose of 7,500 eggs or a placebo every two weeks for 12 weeks.
Coronado's European partner Dr. Falk Pharma GmbH, a German company, is currently in the midst of a mid-stage trial.
The pill is based on the "hygiene hypothesis," which says that many developed countries have become too clean for their own good. Incidentally, high-income countries have the highest share of autoimmune disorders sufferers. In many parts of the world, bacteria and viruses are kept at bay through a variety of antibacterial products. The hypothesis suggests that we need the viruses and bacteria that are found in abundance in dirt and elsewhere to train, and fortify, our bodies.
Current methods of treating autoimmune disorders include injections, which come with a range of side effects and increased risk for the development of tuberculosis and some cancers. The pill comes with few side effects, like gastrointestinal discomfort, and researchers say that they normally go away after the first two doses. The symptoms also do not last that long.
Interestingly, the study researchers say that they have had no issue recruiting. They are also optimistic about approval from government bodies, though they admit that it might be challenging because of the new class of drugs.
An estimated 50 million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. An additional 7.5 million suffer from psoriasis and 700,000 suffer from Crohn's disease.