Drug Discovery @ UIC: University of Illinois at Chicago’s UICentre Receives Drug Development Grant for Sleep Apnea

Lauren Walsh
Post date: 
March 1, 2015

The University of Illinois at Chicago’s Collaborative Engagement in Novel Therapeutic Research and Enterprise, or UICentre, received an $8.5 million National Institutes of Health grant to develop a drug that will cure sleep apnea.

In conjunction with researchers at University of Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute (IITRI), the five-year Centers for Advanced Diagnostics and Experimental Therapeutics in Lung Disease (CADET) project will seek a new treatment for sleep apnea, a condition that occurs when the upper airway is obstructed during sleep. Currently, a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine is the most effective treatment for sleep apnea, but the machine does not work for everyone.

team science

The CADET project, funded by funded by the National Institute of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute was based on the discovery of a new drug target for sleep-disordered breathing by Nanduri Prabakhar, PhD’s team at University of Chicago.  Due to its ability to engage the large, multi-disciplinary team required to establish new biochemical assays integrated with chemical biology and medicinal chemistry, the UICentre was best positioned to seek a new small molecule therapeutic for this target.

“Drug development is collaborative by nature,” said Gregory Thatcher, professor of medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy at UIC and director of the UICentre. “In the Centre, a multidisciplinary project team will incorporate chemistry, informatics, toxicology, and bioavailability at the earliest stage of drug discovery.”

As part of the discovery process, University of Chicago will test drug candidates in animals to see if apnea is alleviated. The best new small molecules will be developed in collaboration with IITRI, where David McCormick, PhD’s research team will define the animal pharmacology and toxicology necessary to move a new drug into human trials.  

The UICentre operates under the umbrella of the Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS). As the CCTS’s drug discovery arm, the UICentre has the unique ability to create new drug compounds through the expertise of a core group of career scientists and centralized resources from the Colleges of Pharmacy, Medicine and Liberal Arts and Sciences.

In keeping with the CCTS’s goal of accelerating the translation of scientific discoveries into innovative therapies and disease prevention, the Centre seeks to reduce barriers to drug discovery and accelerate the commercialization of novel clinical targets.

sleep apnea

Large pharmaceutical companies still perform the vast majority of research leading to new or alternative drug therapies, such as new treatments for sleep-disordered breathing. Over the last decade, however, these companies began looking for academic partners to aid in the discovery process. UICentre better positions UIC as an institution that can not only address the gap in creating innovative drug therapies but partner with pharmaceutical companies to make these therapies available to health care providers.

According to Thatcher, “Without the UICentre, UIC would not have been able to secure a drug discovery project of CADET’s scale.”

Sleep disordered breathing with obstructive sleep apnea is a major health problem affecting several million people in the US alone. Along with daytime sleepiness, slow reflexes, poor concentration and an increased risk of accidents, sleep apnea can also lead to serious health problems over time. Without treatment, individuals may experience diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and weight gain.

The University of Illinois engages in a variety of sleep-related research to diagnose and treat sleep disorders. These efforts can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke and help people achieve the quality of sleep needed for a productive and healthy life.