February 2021 will forever be remembered for meaningful research collaboration between two parties that aim to identify underlying immune causes of vitiligo. This is the same month when Repertoire Immune Medicines and UMass Chan Medical School (UMass Chan) entered into a sponsored research agreement to identify the specific T cell and antigen pairs involved in causing the onset and progression of the engrammatic skin condition we all call vitiligo. Once identified, the discovery of drivers of vitiligo could turn out to be game-changing by potentially being used to develop antigen-specific therapeutic candidates for the skin condition.
For all investigations conducted under the initiative, the research team will be led by John E. Harris, M.D., Ph.D. at UMass Chan Medical School. “In autoimmune diseases, the best therapeutic options typically act broadly to suppress the immune system, which can lead to other complications for patients. One of the challenges to discovering new treatment options for vitiligo is the significant complexity of the immune system,” said Dr. Harris who is the Chair and Professor of Dermatology and Director of the Vitiligo Clinic and Research Center.
What happens to T cells in people with vitiligo?
A few studies have made it clear that in the case of vitiligo, CD8+ T cells start killing melanin-producing cells leading to depigmentation. It is believed that the immune system directs T cells to target and damage healthy cells in people living with vitiligo. However, it is so far not known exactly why this occurs. If the codes directing the CD8+ T cells can be identified, immunotherapy could be developed that targets these cells and prevents them from killing healthy cells.
Dr. Harris stated in a press release that he and his team understand the role of the T cell but so far haven’t been able to identify the specific codes directing their function. The opportunity to combine his expertise in vitiligo with Repertoire’s DECODE™ technology may mean that antigen-specific therapies for vitiligo can be discovered for the first time if the research collaboration starts yielding results.