May 5, 2021

UCeed-funded company develops revolutionary asthma treatment

UCalgary researchers find game-changing alternative to inhalers
Mark Starratt and Richard Wilson
Mark Starratt, left, and Richard Wilson.

Inhalers may no longer be the only option in treating acute asthma attacks thanks to research by a UCalgary professor and his medical company supported by the UCeed program.

Research led by Dr. Richard Wilson, PhD, points to a novel oral treatment for asthma that goes beyond the traditional inhaler. The new treatment is likely to be fast-acting, targeting the nervous system rather than the airways. Wilson’s lab has shown that the carotid bodies, tiny collections of neurons on each side of the neck, may be responsible for triggering an allergen-induced asthma attack.

“We believe this approach to treat asthma will ultimately save lives, and, unlike most other asthma treatments …  our hope is that people experiencing an asthma attack will have the option to swallow a pill and won’t have to be wed to an inhaler,” says Wilson, a professor at Cumming School of Medicine and one of the founders and chief science officer of Calgary-based AazeinTx, which is developing the treatment.

Traditional inhaler therapy treats asthma by delivering medication into the airways, which are not always accessible for passing drugs during an asthma attack. Moreover, inhaler-based therapy relies on people using their inhaler correctly, which can be difficult when they are having trouble breathing. An oral treatment eliminates these risks.

Wilson’s team has been working on the foundational research behind AazeinTx for 10 years, and this work has been consistently supported by the University of Calgary. The funds provided by UCeed have been crucial to providing foundational support to AazeinTx, an early stage company that is now raising capital to fund the next step, a Phase lla clinical trial. The UCeed investment has allowed the company to continue developing critical intellectual property, do necessary legal work, hire new employees and move its general business plan forward as the science has developed.

“UCeed has been instrumental in our early development,” says Wilson

AazeinTx CEO Mark Starratt agrees on this point, adding, “It’s not just the cheque at the end of the process, but… the collaboration and the back and forth and the learning and the discussion from the entire UCeed team have been very additive to how we think and how we implement certain things.”

With its strong research and management team, the future of AazeinTx and its revolutionary product looks promising as work continues in fulfilling an unmet need in asthma treatment.

“We’re through what would be described as the ‘valley of death,’ where the vast majority of compounds fail, so the fact that we are already at Phase lla means that there is about a 40 per cent chance that, once the clinical trials are completed, this compound in its current form will achieve regulatory approval,” says Starratt.

The people behind AazeinTx are unsure when their final product will go to market, but there is no question that it’ll be worth the wait.

“Up to one in five people have asthma. It is a very common condition around the world, and there are more than 417,000 people that die every year because of this condition,” says Starratt. “We expect that our product would help decrease this number significantly.”

Learn more about this new technology.

Richard Wilson is a professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) and a member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, and the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the CSM.

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