If it sounds too good to be true, it might be. Although study after study suggests that the NLRP3 inflammasome hurts more than it helps, those data are all in animals, not humans. And finding drugs to selectively stop NLRP3 will be difficult. Scientists say that they don’t even have a detailed image of the protein—information that typically provides a launching point for designing molecules that disrupt its activity. And NLRP3 is implicated in so many diseases that drug companies are flummoxed with where to begin.
H. Martin Seidel, CEO of IFM Therapeutics and former head of business development at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, says NLRP3 inhibitors have the potential to become the new statins—the pills taken daily by 40 million people in the US to lower cholesterol. But in addition to heart disease, NLRP3 inhibitors might help ward off Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, fatty liver diseases, and a constellation of other common ailments linked to chronic inflammation.