NEW YORK -- Researchers at Nova Pharmaceutical Corp. said yesterday that they discovered, by accident, a family of drugs that could prove to be more potent and to have fewer side effects than current medicines for arthritis and other ailments involving inflammation.
The scientists said they stumbled across the drugs two years ago while searching for new asthma medicines. Their accidental discovery was a chemical compound that blocks white blood cells from triggering a major component of the body's inflammatory response.
The drugs may actually prevent the massing in bone joints and other tissues of painful and destructive chemicals that characterize arthritis and other conditions.
Baltimore-based Nova said the drugs could be an advance over aspirin, ibuprofen or widely used prescription drugs that reduce swelling that already has arisen.
Nova's scientists released the first information about the new drugs, called leumedins, in a scientific report detailing animal experiments conducted over the past year.
In the tests, the drugs reduced swelling in inflamed bone joints in rats and rabbits as well as, or better than, traditional anti-inflammatory medicines. The experimental drugs also produced none of the side effects that often result from long-term use of current therapies.
"The drugs truly represent a new approach to fighting inflammation," said Dr. Charles Dinarello, an inflammatory-disease researcher at Tufts University School of Medicine.
The only human studies have involved topical versions of the drugs against a rashlike ailment called dermatitis. Nova has asked the Food and Drug Administration for approval to begin human safety tests of an oral version.
News of the discovery of the anti-inflammation drugs by Nova could cause a stir at many pharmaceutical companies, where extensive efforts have been launched in recent years to develop anti-inflammatory medicines based on new research about the body's immune system.
The market for such drugs is huge, since about 37 million Americans have arthritis and spend about $5 billion a year for treatments. Better treatments also are needed against other conditions involving inflammation such as chronic bowel disease, allergies, lupus and multiple sclerosis.