January’s top news stories

6th February 2018 (Last Updated February 6th, 2018 00:00)

An artificially intelligent (AI) robot ‘scientist’ assisted researchers at the University of Cambridge to find a potential antimalarial drug from a toothpaste ingredient, while University of Alberta researchers created a synthetic virus that could revolutionise how we manufacture complex biologicals. Drugdevelopment-technology.com wraps up the key headlines from January 2018.

AI robot aids scientists in malaria discovery

An artificially intelligent (AI) robot ‘scientist’ assisted researchers at the University of Cambridge in finding a potential antimalarial drug from an ingredient commonly found in toothpaste.

The robot, dubbed Eve by its developers at the Universities of Manchester, Aberystwyth and Cambridge, speeds up drug discovery process using automation.

It automatically develops and tests hypotheses, runs experiments using laboratory robotics and interprets the results to amend the hypothesis. It then repeats the cycle, automating high-throughput hypothesis-led research.


Synthetic horsepox virus raises hopes for improved smallpox and cancer treatments

Researchers from the University of Alberta created a synthetic virus that could “revolutionise how we manufacture complex biologicals”, according to virologist and breakthrough leader David Evans.

In a study published today in PLOS ONE, Evans and research associate Ryan Noyce reported the production and testing of a horsepox virus, engineered entirely through chemical methods. Horsepox does not pose a threat to humans, but is closely related to the vaccinia virus, which was used as part of the vaccine to eradicate smallpox 40 years ago.

Despite the disease’s eradication, smallpox vaccines are still a necessity for many; in the wake of the September 11 attacks, the US Department of health and Human Services recommended that half a million healthcare and emergency workers receive the vaccination due to the potential threat of smallpox as a biological weapon.


UK researchers start trial to reduce dependency on painkillers

Researchers from the University of Warwick and James Cook University Hospital in the UK initiated the I-WOTCH study aimed at reducing the dependency of people with long-term pain on strong painkillers such as opioids.

Intended to improve the quality of life for such users, the trial will be funded under the NIHR Health Technology Assessment Programme.

The study will recruit 468 volunteers, with a certain number receiving existing GP care, a self-help booklet, and a relaxation CD. While another set proportion will receive GP care, be part of a specifically designed group, and a one-to-one support programme developed at Warwick Medical School.


New Australian grant to support rare cancer drug development

Australia Health Minister Greg Hunt announced new funding to support various organisations in the clinical development of new drugs to treat rare cancers and diseases.

The A$69m ($55.10m) grant will be used for clinical trial projects involving treatments for severe conditions such as acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, multiple sclerosis, aplastic anaemia and Huntington’s disease.

It will be used by University of New South Wales researchers to evaluate a vaccine for glioblastoma, while the University of Queensland’s trial will test medical cannabis’ benefits for advanced cancer.


Project to sequence all genomes on Earth to begin in Amazon rainforest

The World Economic Forum (WEF) announced the Earth Bio-Genome Project (EBP), a scheme to sequence the genomes of every plant, animal and single-celled organism on Earth.

Genome sequencing is the process of understanding the components of an organism’s DNA; all DNA consists of four bases, A, C, G and T in various combinations. The human genome is made up of more than three billion bases, and the first human genome was not completely sequenced until 2017, at the culmination of the Human Genome Project, a precursor to the EBP that took over two decades to complete, at a cost of $4.8bn. The fall in costs of genomic sequencing, EBP will cost an estimated $4.7bn over the next decade, is a key change that has enabled a project of this scale to be undertaken.

In a related move, the Earth Bank of Codes (EBC) seeks to catalogue the planet’s biological data, and make this information ‘accessible to innovators around the world’. The bank will use blockchain technology to ensure it remains decentralised and that its data is kept up to date.


NIH initiates antiretroviral trial in pregnant women with HIV

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched a large international trial called IMPAACT 2010 or VESTED to evaluate three antiretroviral treatment regimens in HIV-infected pregnant women.

The trial aims to investigate the safety and efficacy of these regimens in the 639 participants who are 14 to 28 weeks into their pregnancies, along with safety for their infants.

It will compare the existing World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended, first-line maternal efavirenz (EFV) / emtricitabine (FTC) / tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) regimen with two other regimens containing newer antiretroviral drugs dolutegravir (DTG) or tenofovir alafenamide (TAF).


AstraZeneca reports positive Phase III data of PT010 for COPD

AstraZeneca reported top-line results from the Phase III KRONOS clinical trial of PT010 in patients with moderate to very severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Results indicated statistically significant improvement in six out of seven lung function primary endpoints when compared to dual combination therapies.

PT010 is a fixed-dose triple combination therapy of 320µg of an inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) called budesonide with 14.4µg glycopyrronium (LAMA) and 9.6µg formoterol fumarate, a LABA.


Diffusion Pharma starts dosing in Phase III glioblastoma trial

US-based Diffusion Pharmaceuticals started dosing patients in the Phase III INTACT clinical trial of its product candidate trans sodium crocetinate (TSC) for the treatment of newly diagnosed inoperable glioblastoma multiforme (GBM).

TSC is being developed to counteract tumour hypoxia to make treatment-resistant cancer cells more susceptible to the standard radiation therapy (RT) and chemotherapy.

The open-label, randomised, controlled Phase III trial will compare the overall survival of patients receiving a combination of TSC with standard of care (SoC) RT and those having chemotherapy or SOC alone.


Otsuka to advance clinical development of anti-TB drug

Japan-based healthcare firm Otsuka Pharmaceutical secured funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to accelerate clinical development of the investigational compound OPC-167832 to treat tuberculosis (TB).

The $10m grant will be used to investigate OPC-167832 in combination with delamanid during a trial designed to use multiple-ascending-dose and early bactericidal-activity studies in drug-susceptible patients.

Discovered by the firm, OPC-167832 is designed to block the DprE1 enzyme that is known to be involved in the mycobacterial cell wall-related synthesis.


Mallinckrodt enrols first patient for Phase lV trial of HP Acthar Gel

Mallinckrodt enrolled the first patient in its Phase lV trial to further evaluate the efficacy of HP Acthar Gel as a therapy option to treat patients with pulmonary sarcoidosis.

Entitled ‘Pilot Study to Assess the Efficacy and Safety of HP ActharGel in Subjects With Pulmonary Sarcoidosis’, the trial is a multicentre, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot programme.

During the study, patients required to receive prednisone treatment and meeting other criteria will be randomly assigned to receive either 1ml of HP Acthar Gel or 1ml of a matching placebo subcutaneously two times a week.