The Washington University School of Medicine has received a $5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop new therapeutics for respiratory diseases. The projects include designing next-generation drugs to open the airway passages by controlling mucus production in addition to new agents to fight respiratory infections by boosting the immune system, as reported by the St. Louis Business Journal. The funds came from three grants from the NIH with target illnesses including the common cold and lung disease.

The program is based in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine led by pulmonologist and principle investigator Dr Michael Holtzman, the Selma and Herman Seldin professor of medicine. Holtzman says, “Chronic respiratory disease is the third-leading cause of death in the US and the fifth worldwide, and these deaths are linked most strongly to overproduction of inflammatory mucus that blocks the airways.”

Holtzman adds, “The pathway to mucus production is invariably activated in respiratory viral infections, and the same process drives exacerbations and progression of chronic respiratory diseases like asthma and COPD, yet there are no drugs that effectively control this pathway.”

The St. Louis Business Journal news report notes that the largest award from the NIH will support a project focused on optimizing a chemical compound Holtzman’s group created to block a key checkpoint in the mucus pathway. Another two awards will address the need to control viruses that drive acute and chronic respiratory disease, as reported by the St. Louis Business Journal, and are meant to develop the next generation of antiviral drugs.

The drug discovery program is envisioned as a model for academic development of new therapeutics.

Source: St. Louis Business Journal