Drugs for Autoimmune Inflammatory Diseases: From Small Molecule Compounds to Anti-TNF Biologics

Front Pharmacol. 2017 Jul 12:8:460. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2017.00460. eCollection 2017.


Although initially described as an anti-tumor mediator, tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF) is generally considered as the master pro-inflammatory cytokine. It plays a crucial role in the pathogenesis of inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), inflammatory bowel disease, ankylosing spondylitis (AS), and psoriasis. Consequently, anti-TNF therapy has become mainstay treatment for autoimmune diseases. Historically, anti-inflammatory agents were developed before the identification of TNF. Salicylates, the active components of Willow spp., were identified in the mid-19th century for the alleviation of pain, fever, and inflammatory responses. Study of this naturally occurring compound led to the discovery of aspirin, which was followed by the development of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) due to the chemical advances in the 19th-20th centuries. Initially, the most of NSAIDs were organic acid, but the non-acidic compounds were also identified as NSAIDs. Although effective in the treatment of inflammatory diseases, NSAIDs have some undesirable and adverse effect, such as ulcers, kidney injury, and bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract. In the past two decades, anti-TNF biologics were developed. Drugs belong to this class include soluble TNF receptor 2 fusion protein and anti-TNF antibodies. The introduction of anti-TNF therapeutics has revolutionized the management of autoimmune diseases, such as RA, psoriatic arthritis (PsA), plaque psoriasis (PP), AS, CD and ulcerative colitis (UC). Nevertheless, up to 40% of patients have no response to anti-TNF treatment. Furthermore, this treatment is associated with some adverse effects such as increased risk of infection, and even triggered the de novo development of autoimmune diseases. Such harmful effect of anti-TNF treatment is likely caused by the global inhibition of TNF biological functions. Therefore, specific inhibition of TNF receptor (TNFR1 or TNFR2) may represent a safer and more effective treatment, as proposed by some recent studies. In this review article, the historical development of anti-inflammatory drugs after World War II as briefly described above will be reviewed and analyzed. The future trend in the development of novel TNF receptor-targeting therapeutics will be discussed in the context of latest progress in the research of TNF biology.

Keywords: TNF receptor; anti-TNF biologics; autoimmune inflammatory diseases; non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs); tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF).

Publication types

  • Review