Scientists said on Friday they were a step closer to developing a new class of easy-to-take asthma and allergy drug, capable of tackling the underlying cause of disease rather than just the symptoms.
By targeting a protein called p110delta, researchers believe they can block allergic reactions before symptoms occur, yet avoid a widespread shut-down of the body’s immune system.
Bart Vanhaesebroeck from Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry said new research had proved the role of the protein in allergic reactions in mice, which would encourage drug firms to accelerate development of treatments.
Vanhaesebroeck and colleagues worked alongside Merck-Serono on the project, the results of which were published on Friday in the Journal of Immunology.
Other drugmakers — including Pfizer Inc, Genentech Inc, Boehringer Ingelheim and biotech firms Piramed Pharma of Britain and U.S.-based Calistoga Pharmaceuticals — were also interested in the area, Vanhaesebroeck said in a telephone interview.
“We are very hopeful that a drug for human patients can be developed in the very near future. This approach offers the potential for therapies for asthma and allergies that target the real causes, not just symptoms,” he said.
Product years away
Preclinical testing of experimental drugs for human use are expected to start in the near future, although it will still be several years before any product reaches the market.
Most existing treatments for asthma and allergies focus on reducing symptoms, like inflamed airways or a runny nose, which are caused by the immune system’s over-reaction to allergens such as dust, insect bites or peanuts.
Treating the body’s underlying immune response is possible but such therapies can leave a person vulnerable to infection and they tend to be reserved for the most extreme cases.
More recently, Genentech and Novartis AG have introduced a new medicine for severe asthma called Xolair that blocks a immune system substance called immunoglobulin E, but this still needs to be given as an injection.
A new drug targeting p110delta, by contrast, could be made as a capsule or be adapted for inhalation or topical use, in the case of eczema.
If all goes well, the result could be a therapy that is available for widespread use against allergies and, potentially, other inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
P110delta is a member of a family of eight proteins called PI3Ks that have been implicated in many different diseases, including cancer. Drugs that act on all PI3Ks tend to be toxic, so the British team had to use genetic techniques to find out which individual proteins were linked to specific diseases.