Promising new drugs for pancreatitis being developed

1st November 2017

Pancreatitis, both acute and chronic, is a priority area of research for Guts UK. Attacks of pancreatitis can be extremely painful and make people very unwell. The inflammation associated with the disease can spread to other organs in the body and cause serious complications; in a few cases the patient might die. Chronic pancreatitis is a life-limiting disease associated with many associated problems, such as chronic pain, diabetes, nutrient malabsorption, weight loss, diarrhoea and vomiting.

There is no specific treatment for pancreatitis, which is why Guts UK welcomes the news that life science company Cypralis has received funding from the government to develop and test potential new drugs for pancreatitis.

Cypralis has been collaborating with Professor Robert Sutton and his team at the University of Liverpool, a leading European centre for pancreatology research. They have developed a series of drugs that can stop the death of pancreatic cells when they are exposed to bile acids (one of the two most common causes of pancreatitis). This is promising, as the death of pancreatic cells can lead to scarring and fibrosis, with ensuing loss of function of the pancreas, pain and complications.

The drugs work by inhibiting the action of a molecule: an enzyme called cyclophilin, which is involved in the inflammation and cell death that occurs during pancreatitis. Prof Sutton has previously shown that drugs which block cyclophilin can prevent or reduce damage to the pancreas that occurs during an episode of acute pancreatitis.

The new funding will allow Cypralis to explore which drugs might stop cell death and fibrosis in the context of chronic pancreatitis, where repeat bouts of inflammation can cause severe damage to the pancreas. Cypralis plans to develop one of their most promising drugs to a stage where they can start a clinical trial in 2018.

Encouragingly, if successful, these new drugs could also be used on other diseases that follow a similar path of inflammation followed by cell death and fibrosis, such Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH) and as Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF).

Prof Sutton commented, ‘Chronic pancreatitis is a severely debilitating condition without any available drug treatment to slow or reverse the disease. We are pleased to be collaborating again with Cypralis to identify new compounds that could represent a major advance in the treatment for chronic pancreatitis, and perhaps also for other inflammatory and degenerative conditions in the future.’

Guts UK has supported Prof Sutton’s work before by funding his researchers at the University of Liverpool through our Guts UK/Amelie Waring Fellowships, a three-year grant to research any aspect of pancreatic inflammation or injury. We are delighted that the team at the University of Liverpool, in collaboration with Cypralis, are making progress in the development of a new drug for pancreatitis.

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