The Wellcome Trust has awarded £3.8 million to a team of researchers led by David Wynick, Professor of Molecular Medicine at the University of Bristol, to develop a new analgesic drug based on the protein galanin. Prof Wynick will be working with the UK contract drug discovery company BioFocus and the University spin-out company NeuroTargets.
The award, under the Wellcome Trust’s Seeding Drug Discovery initiative, follows a smaller award of £540,000 to fund early stage research and takes the total support for this project to £4.3 million.
Galanin is a small protein made by the pain sensing cells and its levels greatly increase after injury or damage to these nerves. After 10 years investigating its function, Prof Wynick and his colleague Dr Fiona Holmes have shown that galanin reduces neuropathic pain in a number of models of disease. Research into the use of galanin for multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease has also had positive initial results.
“A drug that mimics the effects of galanin could offer relief to the millions of people with diabetes worldwide that currently suffer from this debilitating pain. At present we know of no other pharmaceutical company that is exploring galanin to develop a pain treatment and we are delighted that The Wellcome Trust is supporting our work in this area,” said Prof Wynick, who is based in the University of Bristol’s Departments of Clinical Sciences South Bristol and Physiology & Pharmacology, and is also Director of Research for North Bristol NHS Trust and University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust.
Rick Davis of the Wellcome Trust commented: “Existing painkillers can prove largely ineffective against neuropathic pain so we are pleased to support this project, which addresses an area of huge unmet clinical need.”
Diabetes is the commonest cause of neuropathic pain which is often experienced as a burning or electrical pain and to date existing painkillers have proved largely ineffective. Latest estimates by the World Diabetes Foundation predict that the world’s population of diabetes sufferers will jump from 285 million in 2010 to 438 million by 2030 given the increasing levels of obesity, and in the UK about 5% of the population currently have diabetes. Of those with diabetes, over half will develop peripheral nerve damage (neuropathy) and 15-20% of those patients will develop chronic neuropathic pain, indicating the potentially huge market for a more effective painkiller.
It should take about three years to develop a drug suitable for testing in human trials and if those studies were successful then at least another eight years before the drug was commercially available.
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