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Vol. LXIII, No. 7
April 1, 2011

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An NIH-sponsored clinical trial has found that a drug that targets the antibody immunoglobulin E—a key player in asthma—nearly eliminated seasonal increases in asthma attacks and decreased asthma symptoms among young people living in inner-city environments.

Relief Found for Seasonal Asthma Attacks in Young People

A drug that targets the antibody immunoglobulin E, a key player in asthma, nearly eliminated seasonal increases in asthma attacks and decreased asthma symptoms among young people living in inner-city environments, a clinical trial sponsored by NIH has found. The findings appeared in the Mar. 17 New England Journal of Medicine.

This investigational use of the drug omalizumab, sold under the brand name Xolair, was conducted in eight U.S. cities by the Inner City Asthma Consortium, a nationwide clinical trials network supported by NIAID. The National Center for Research Resources and Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. provided additional support for the study.

In the United States, asthma affects approximately 18 million adults and 7 million children under the age of 18. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath, any of which can be provoked by viral infections, allergens and air pollution. The number of asthma attacks rises in the spring and fall seasons when more allergens are in the air and the occurrence of respiratory viruses increases.

Finding of Long-Sought Drug Target Structure May Expedite Drug Discovery

Researchers have solved the three-dimensional structure of a key biological receptor. The finding has the potential to speed drug discovery in many areas, from arthritis to respiratory disorders to wound healing, because it enables chemists to better examine and design molecules for use in experimental drugs.

NIH researchers collaborated with labs at the Scripps Research Institute and the University of California, San Diego. The finding was published in the Mar. 10 edition of Science Express.

“This is an important step forward—it was impossible until recently to know how this type of receptor is switched on by chemical signals like a tiny machine,” said NIDDK’s Dr. Kenneth A. Jacobson, an author on the paper. “The architecture of the activated receptor allows us to think in more detailed terms about the other half of the drug interaction. We hope that we’re on the verge of a revolution that will expedite the process of crafting new drugs to treat disease.”

With this finding, scientists in Jacobson’s lab, including co-author Dr. Zhan-Guo Gao, will next work on testing this drug-engineering approach with similar molecules they have newly synthesized.

New Robot System To Test 10,000 Chemicals For Toxicity

NIH and several other federal agencies recently unveiled a new high-speed robot screening system that will test 10,000 different chemicals for potential toxicity. The system marks the beginning of a new phase of an ongoing collaboration, referred to as Tox21, that is working to protect human health by improving how chemicals are tested in the United States.

The robot system, which is located at the NIH Chemical Genomics Center in Rockville, was purchased as part of the Tox21 collaboration. Tox21 was established in 2008 between the NIEHS National Toxicology Program, NHGRI and the Environmental Protection Agency. The Food and Drug Administration joined in 2010. Tox21 merges existing agency resources (research, funding and testing tools) to develop ways to more effectively predict how chemicals will affect human health and the environment.

The 10,000 chemicals screened by the robot system include compounds found in industrial and consumer products, food additives and drugs. A thorough analysis and prioritization process from more than 200 public databases of chemicals and drugs used in the U.S. and abroad was conducted to select the initial 10,000 chemicals for testing. Testing results will provide information useful for evaluating whether these chemicals have the potential to disrupt human body processes enough to lead to adverse health effects.—compiled by Carla Garnett

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