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New protein replacement therapy makes breathing easier for pre-term babies

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Hospitals are getting better at helping pre-term babies survive, but that help is having an unintended consequence. Each year over 160,000 pre-term babies in the US and Europe alone are at risk for developing bronchopulmonary dysplasia – or BPD.  Of these pre-term babies, 49 percent will die as a result.  A large percentage of the surviving babies will suffer lifelong chronic symptoms. but one Greater Cincinnati company may have the solution.

“The inflammation and infection that has been shown to cause BPD can result in lifelong chronic lung diseases such as asthma and pneumonia,” said Dr. Marc Salzberg, president & CEO of Airway Therapeutics.

Stabilizing and strengthening babies’ lungs

Airway Therapeutics is trying to make it easier for these most-vulnerable patients, pre-term neonates, to breathe.

“We are developing a novel intervention to prevent BPD –AT-100, a recombinant human surfactant protein-D,” said Dr. Salzberg.

Pre-term babies’ lungs do not have surfactant protein-D, which is necessary for their lungs to function properly. To combat this problem, Airway Therapeutics developed AT-100. The recombinant human surfactant protein D blocks inflammation associated with ventilation. Airway Therapeutics believes that by introducing the protein into the lungs during the current care protocol, the commercial lung surfactants will convert into a more natural state that the babies’ lungs can use. This treatment is expected to have a positive long-term impact on the baby’s life.

The one-two punch for lung care

AT-100 stabilizes the lungs as it strengthens them.  The protein helps maintain a steady surfactant level thereby reducing surface tension in the lungs, keeping breathing effort to a minimum.  To strengthen the lungs, AT-100 modulates the functions of numerous immune cells and can help reduce pulmonary inflammation associated with ventilation, as well as reducing viral, fungal and bacterial pathogens.

Airway Therapeutics received orphan designation in both the U.S. and Europe. In addition, the program has been validated by the FDA and by EU regulatory authorities, with both preclinical development and clinical programs endorsed.

Why Greater Cincinnati?

Airway Therapeutics has a close relationship with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

“We were spun out of Children’s Hospital, and we continue close collaboration with that team as well as the team at the University Of Cincinnati College Of Medicine,” said Dr. Salzberg.

In fact, the team at Airway Therapeutics is bringing the clinical and academic teams together to do something they’ve never done before – develop a drug.

“This is a great example of how a company with minimal resources can collaborate with a leading hospital and university to develop a drug,” said Dr. Jan Rosenbaum, Chief Scientific Officer at Airway Therapeutics. “They’ve never been asked to work together in this way before. We’re teaching them how to develop drugs while they’re helping us complete our trials. We’re all getting smarter together.”

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine are just two institutions in Greater Cincinnati that are turning biotech innovations into a reality. With more than 590 biohealth firms already located in the region, companies like Airway Therapeutics, have a wide, established network within which to work.

“We founded our company in Greater Cincinnati because of our connection to Children’s Hospital,” said Dr. Salzberg. “We wouldn’t be here without them.”