UCL is awarded £4m from the Wellcome Trust to fight Sepsis

30 September 2008

The Wellcome Trust has announced it will invest £4 million over three years from its Seeding Drug Discovery Initiative into a programme to develop UCL’s patented series of selective DDAH inhibitors for use in treating sepsis.

Dimethylarginine dimethylaminohydrolase1 (DDAH1) is an enzyme involved in the regulation of nitric oxide (NO) signalling. Researchers at UCL have developed small molecule inhibitors of DDAH1, which may provide novel therapeutics for the treatment of diseases involving excess NO synthesis, including sepsis.

With the treatment of sepsis an area barely impacted upon by pharmaceutical companies, this award has recognised both the urgent need for effective therapies for this condition, and the strong potential of the project team’s unique approach.

The most severe form of sepsis, septic shock, occurs following infection and affects a high proportion of critically ill patients. The mortality rate for this condition exceeds 50%. There is clearly an urgent need for effective and affordable treatments, with currently only one drug specifically targeted at sepsis on the market.

Building on a primary series of chemical inhibitors designed and developed at UCL in part under awards from the British Heart Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and UCL Business PLC, Dr. James Leiper has assembled a uniquely cross-disciplined team from within UCL and Birkbeck College, spanning chemical, biological and clinical expertise, in order to fully engage with every aspect of the drug development cycle. The project team is led by the principal applicant Dr. James Leiper (UCL, Medicine) and is comprised of Professors Mervyn Singer (UCL, Medicine), Stephen Caddick (UCL, Chemistry) and Neil McDonald (Birkbeck, Crystallography).

The Wellcome Trust award and this proactive collaboration of disciplines has allowed the team to develop a detailed three-year project plan for developing UCL’s selective DDAH inhibitors into the clinic as an effective treatment for sepsis.

Dr. Leiper said, “We are all very excited by the award from Wellcome Trust to support the translation of our basic interdisciplinary programme into the development of therapeutics. I think UCL is ideally placed to foster this sort of programme and brings together expertise in small molecule chemistry, structural and molecular biology and clinical science.’’

As Cengiz Tarhan, Managing Director of UCL Business remarked, “UCL Business has put significant funding into this high priority project, and we are very pleased to work with the Trust to bring our mutual investment closer to market and to benefiting public health.”

Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said, “With this exciting award, Dr. Leiper will be able to take a significant step in developing the findings from his fundamental BHF-funded research towards a new medicine to control the life threatening fall in blood pressure associated with sepsis.”

Dr. Ted Bianco, of the Wellcome Trust, commented, “When doctors are fighting to save a life, they need all the support they can get. With so few treatment options for sepsis, it’s great to back a team like that assembled by Dr Leiper in a bid to turn novel thinking into novel medicine.”

About Birkbeck College
Birkbeck is a world-class research and teaching institution, a vibrant centre of academic excellence in the heart of London. Birkbeck has sustained and enhanced its standing as a world-class research institution – both nationally and internationally, and all the Schools and Departments in the College are research-active. www.bbk.ac.uk

About the British Heart Foundation
The vision of the British heart Foundation is of a world in which people do not die prematurely of heart disease. We’ll achieve this through pioneering research, vital prevention activity and ensuring quality care and support for everyone living with heart disease. The BHF invests over £100 a minute on research to keep the nation’s hearts healthy. www.bhf.org.uk

About The Wellcome Trust
The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending around £650 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health and wellbeing. The Wellcome Trust’s £91 million Seeding Drug Discovery Initiative aims to assist researchers and companies, small and large, to take forward early-stage drug discovery projects in small-molecule therapeutics. www.wellcome.ac.uk.

Further Information
For further information contact Dr. Carol Harty, Business Manager, UCL Business PLC on 020 7679 9000, c.harty@uclb.com.