Remicade (infliximab) was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1998 to treat autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and Crohn’s disease. But, was the first anti-tumor necrosis factor (TNF) agent originally intended to be a therapeutic treatment for cancer?

According to a feature story in Business Insider, the answer is yes. In the piece, Dr. Jan Vilcek, the scientist who discovered Remicade, discusses how targeting the TNF process didn’t make the cut for cancer treatment, as the TNF protein was too toxic to be safe for patients.

But, after Vilcek and team took a closer look at the protein and pathway, and discovered how actually blocking TNF, helped suppress symptoms of autoimmune disorders.

“We developed an antagonist to TNF … that binds TNF and thereby prevents its action in the body,” said Vilcek. “That’s what became Remicade.”

Of course, since the approval of Remicade in ’98, there are now several anti-TNF agents for the treatment of RA and Crohn’s, including Enbrel and Humira.

It goes to show that sometimes it helps to go back to the drawing board.

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