The Complement System: A Frontier in Drug Development

Views: 62     Author: Unibest Industrial     Publish Time: 2024-06-12      Origin: Site

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The complement system has long been recognized as a crucial component of the innate immune system, acting as the first line of defense against invading pathogens. However, recent advancements in understanding this intricate network have unveiled its multifaceted roles in various physiological processes, including homeostasis, inflammation, and immune modulation. As our knowledge of the complement system's intricate mechanisms continues to expand, it presents a promising frontier for drug development, with the potential to address a wide range of diseases.

Until 2007, progress in developing successful complement-targeted therapies was relatively modest. The approval of eculizumab, a humanized anti-C5 antibody by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), marked a pivotal moment. This groundbreaking drug's ability to prevent complement-mediated lysis of erythrocytes and effectively treat paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) validated the complement system as a viable clinical target, paving the way for further exploration.

The Rationale Behind Drug Development for the Complement System

The complement system is now recognized as a complex innate immune surveillance system, playing a crucial role in host homeostasis, inflammation, and defense against pathogens. Its intricate cascade of activation pathways converges on the formation of the membrane attack complex (MAC), which induces cell lysis, a major endpoint of the complement system. However, the potency of this system necessitates tight regulation to prevent unintended host tissue damage.

Complement perturbation-associated pathologies contribute directly to rare diseases such as PNH and atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome (aHUS) and common conditions like rheumatic diseases, ischemia-reperfusion injuries, and atherosclerosis. This broad spectrum of disease associations underscores the immense potential of complement-targeted therapies.

The pharmaceutical industry has responded to this potential with a surge of drug development efforts targeting various complement system components. These endeavors span across different therapeutic modalities, including small molecules, monoclonal antibodies, peptides, and RNA interference (RNAi) technologies.

Pipelines for the Complement System

Base image was modified from Trouw, L. A., Pickering, M. C. & Blom, A. M. The complement system as a potential therapeutic target in rheumatic disease. Nat Rev Rheumatol 13, 538–547 (2017).

Inhibiting the Upper Stream Components

One notable area of focus is the development of complement activation pathway inhibitors, such as sutimlimab (Sanofi), a humanized monoclonal antibody that blocks the critical C1 complex serine protease C1s, targeting the classical pathway. Additionally, several candidates are in development for inhibiting the lectin and alternative pathways, including narsoplimab (Omeros), an anti-MASP-2 antibody, and Danicopan (Alexion), a factor D inhibitor.

Targeting the Converging Midpoints

Inhibition at the level of C3 and C5 cleavage also garnered significant attention, which is especially true for C5 where monoclonal antibodies are massively studied, as these steps lead to the generation of potent inflammatory mediators and the formation of MAC. Pegcetacoplan (Appellis), a pegylated cyclic peptide C3 inhibitor, gained its approval for PNH and geographic atrophy (GA) in 2021 and 2023. Meanwhile, anti-C5 therapies like eculizumab (Alexion), ravulizumab (Alexion), and crovalimab (Roche) have demonstrated remarkable success in treating various complement-mediated disorders.

Downstream Effectors and Receptors

Furthermore, researchers are exploring the potential of selectively inhibiting complement effectors and receptors, such as the C5a receptor (C5aR1), which plays a central role in endothelial and immune cell activation. Avacopan (Amgen), a small molecule first-in-class C5aR antagonist, was approved for rare disease ANCA-associated vasculitis (AAV) in 2021, highlighting the promise of this approach.

drug name target innovator fda approvals drug bank url diseases
Eculizumab C5 Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc. 2007/03/16 PNH, aHUS
Ravulizumab C5 Alexion Pharma Gmbh 2018/12/21 PNH, aHUS, MG
Pegcetacoplan C3 & C3b Apellis Pharmaceuticals, Inc. 2021/05/14 sc for PNH

2023/02 intravitreal for GA PNH, GA
Avacopan C5aR ChemoCentryx, Inc. 2021-10-08 ANCA-associated vasculitis
Sutimlimab C1s Bioverativ Therapeutics Inc. 2022-02 CAD
Avacincaptad pegol C5 Astellas Pharma US, Inc. 2023-08-04 AMD, GA
Pozelimab C5 Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. 2023-08-18 CHAPLE disease
Zilucoplan C5 UCB, Inc. 2023-10-17 gMG
Iptacopan FB Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation 2023-12-06 PNH
Danicopan FD Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc. 2024-03 PNH
Vemircopan FD Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc. LN, IgAN
Crovalimab C5 Roche PNH, aHUS, SCD
Vilobelimab C5a InflaRx GmbH
Narsoplimab MASP-2 Omeros Corporation TMA
OMS906 MASP-3 Omeros Corporation PNH, C3 Glomerulopathy,
Idiopathic Immune Complex-Mediated Glomerulonephritis
AMY-101 C3 Amyndas Pharmaceuticals S.A. Gingivitis
Nomacopan C5 AKARI Therapeutics PNH
Mirococept C3 Organ Transplant
Lampalizumab FD Genentech, Inc. GA
ANX-005 C1q Annexon, Inc.
cemdisiran C5 Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Inc. PNH, MG
AON-D21 C5a Aptarion Biotech Ag

Community-acquired pneumonia
BDB-001 C5aR Staidson

ANCA-associated vasculitis, HS
KP104 FH@C3 convertase, C5 Kira IgAN, C3G, SLE-TMA, PNH

As our understanding of the complement system's intricate mechanisms continues to evolve, so too does the potential for developing targeted therapies that can address a wide range of diseases. The pharmaceutical industry's ongoing efforts in exploring various modalities and targets within the complement cascade hold immense promise for unlocking new treatment options and improving patient outcomes.


The journey towards harnessing the full potential of the complement system is an exciting and rapidly evolving area of drug development. As global generic drug companies continue to explore new frontiers in therapeutics, the complement system presents a fertile ground for innovation and collaboration.

By leveraging cutting-edge technologies, fostering multidisciplinary collaborations, and remaining vigilant in addressing unmet medical needs, the pharmaceutical industry can unlock the transformative potential of complement-targeted therapies. This pursuit not only promises to deliver novel treatment options but also deepens our understanding of the intricate interplay between the immune system and human health.


Aumer Shughoury & Thomas A. Ciulla. The Complement System: A New Therapeutic Target. Retina Today

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Detsika, M. G., Palamaris, K., Dimopoulou, I., Kotanidou, A. & Orfanos, S. E. The complement cascade in lung injury and disease. Respir Res 25, 20 (2024).

Merle, N. S., Noe, R., Halbwachs-Mecarelli, L., Fremeaux-Bacchi, V. & Roumenina, L. T. Complement System Part II: Role in Immunity. Front. Immunol. 6, (2015).

West, E. E., Woodruff, T., Fremeaux-Bacchi, V. & Kemper, C. Complement in human disease: approved and up-and-coming therapeutics. The Lancet 403, 392–405 (2024).