Activation of the complement system is a major pathogenic event that drives various inflammatory responses in numerous diseases. All pathways of complement activation lead to cleavage of the C5 molecule generating the anaphylatoxin C5a and, C5b that subsequently forms the terminal complement complex (C5b-9). C5a exerts a predominant pro-inflammatory activity through interactions with the classical G-protein coupled receptor C5aR (CD88) as well as with the non-G protein coupled receptor C5L2 (GPR77), expressed on various immune and non-immune cells. C5b-9 causes cytolysis through the formation of the membrane attack complex (MAC), and sub-lytic MAC and soluble C5b-9 also possess a multitude of non-cytolytic immune functions. These two complement effectors, C5a and C5b-9, generated from C5 cleavage, are key components of the complement system responsible for propagating and/or initiating pathology in different diseases, including paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, rheumatoid arthritis, ischemia-reperfusion injuries and neurodegenerative diseases. Thus, the C5-C5a receptor axis represents an attractive target for drug development. This review provides a comprehensive analysis of different methods of inhibiting the generation of C5a and C5b-9 as well as the signalling cascade of C5a via its receptors. These include the inhibition of C5 cleavage through targeting of C5 convertases or via the C5 molecule itself, as well as blocking the activity of C5a by neutralizing antibodies and pharmacological inhibitors, or by targeting C5a receptors per se. Examples of drugs and naturally occurring compounds used are discussed in relation to disease models and clinical trials. To date, only one such compound has thus far made it to clinical medicine: the anti-C5 antibody eculizumab, for treating paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria. However, a number of drug candidates are rapidly emerging that are currently in early-phase clinical trials. The C5-C5a axis as a target for drug development is highly promising for the treatment of currently intractable major human diseases.
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