The other day as I was clearing out my office of a hideous amount of paper as we continue our quest for a true minimalist and paperless office that is also scanned and searchable as well as being environment friendly, when I came across a tiny scrap of newspaper. Before throwing it out, curious, I wondered what it was about as a large starfish in the centre caught my attention.
It was a clipping from the Mail on Sunday (oops) back in early 2008.
The snippet described how a starfish could potentially point to a new way of developing treatment for asthma. The company involved, Verona Pharma, was headed by Clive Page, a Pharmacology Professor from Kings College London, where I did my Ph.D research in asthma back in the late 80's (hello, Clive!). We met at a fascinating lecture at the Brompton Hospital given by Prof Peter Barnes, I recall. No wonder I tore out the article in the financial section after idly picking up the paper on the Tube, it's like finding old memories in sepia print.
Serendipity is a fine thing sometimes.
Wondering if the company was still going (they were looking for approval for a clinical trial at that time according to the newspaper), I checked them out and was delighted to see they're not only still going strong, but now have 3 products in development and are doing well, including RPL554, the compound mentioned in the clipping.
The late 80's and early 90's were almost a heyday for respiratory research. Many of the University of London respiratory labs (including Kings and the Brompton) were busy doing large scale clinical trials that later led to a new raft of inhibitors as either long-acting beta2-adrenergic agonists eg bronchodilators (salmeterol) or new generation steroidal anti-inflammatories (fluticasone) for treating asthma. There was also a vibrant basic research community at that time looking at phosphodiesterase (PDE) 3 and 4, leukotrienes (LT), prostaglandins, cytokines and thromboxanes as mediators of the inflammatory response.
It was therefore very interesting to me to discover that Verona's lead compound, RPL554, is a mixed phosphodiesterase (PDE) 3 and 4 inhibitor (a bronchodilator and anti-inflammatory compound in a single molecule). Furthermore, it was co-invented by Sir David Jack (former Research Director of Glaxo) who was involved in the development of the inhaled asthma drugs such as salmeterol and fluticasone, among others.
Meanwhile, I was pleased to see on Verona's website that RPL554 has completed a phase I/IIa trial of RPL554, and will watch it's future progress with interest. The company is taking a smart approach to drug development. Rather than putting all their eggs in one pipeline basket,Verona have have several compounds in preclinical development for related areas such as cough and have also identified some marine organisms (hence the starfish in the news clipping), a natural source of novel anti-inflammatory polysaccharide (NAIPS) without unwanted anti-coagulant actions.
It's going to be interesting to watch Verona's development and I hope at least one of the compounds makes it to market because the underlying scientific rationale is solid.
Watch this space!
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