Anergen Inc. said Tuesday it initiated a Phase I trial of AnervaX, atherapeutic peptide vaccine intended for the treatment of rheumatoidarthritis. It is the first human clinical study for the Redwood City,Calif., company.The double-blind, single-dose, dose-escalation studies will include 20patients with rheumatoid arthritis, which Anergen said afflicts morethan 2.5 million people in the U.S.The chemically modified, synthetic peptide is designed to elicit apatient's antibody response against the major histocompatibiltycomplex (MHC), a protein found on the cell surface of antigen-presenting cells.The study is outside the scope of Anergen's agreement of last Augustwith Novo Nordisk, in which Anergix therapies are in preclinicaldevelopment for multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis and Type 1diabetes. Anergen is funding the AnervaX studies."The self-antigens in rheumatoid arthritis are not known, but Anergen'sunique approach takes advantage of the fact that about 90 percent ofrheumatoid arthritis patients possess the same MHC compound that isfound in AnervaX vaccine," said Jeffrey Winkelhake, Anergen's vicepresident of pharmaceutical development.Other companies working on rheumatoid arthritis vaccines are ImmuneResponse Corp., which is in Phase I/II clinicals with its T-cell receptorvaccine; MedClone Inc., in development with Mab HRF1 vaccinetherapy; and T Cell Sciences Inc., which is in research with TM 31Mab. _ Jim Shrine

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