A first-in-class inhaled drug developed by the UK biotech Verona Pharma improved lung function in a phase II trial treating the lung condition chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The 37 patients in the trial had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a common lung condition that involves a tightening of the lung airways and breathlessness. Verona Pharma found that daily doses of its inhaled drug beat the placebo at improving the amount of air that the patients’ lungs could exhale in one breath, a common test of lung health.
Patients with COPD require a daily maintenance treatment, which doesn’t cure the disease, but stops the symptoms from flaring up. Existing treatments block proteins found in the airways, but can also cause side effects such as nausea by blocking the wrong proteins in other parts of the body like the gastrointestinal system. Verona Pharma’s first-in-class drug is designed to block the target proteins more selectively than existing treatments, causing fewer side effects.
Patients with lung conditions such as asthma and COPD can inhale maintenance therapies using different types of inhaler. One such inhaler is a large nebulizer device, which lets the patient inhale liquid droplets, and another is a smaller handheld dry powder inhaler, which administers the drug as small dry particles. The current trial tested administering the drug via dry powder inhalers, which are common in the market.
“Our proof-of-concept dry powder formulation can be adapted to different dry powder inhaler devices used in the market,” stated Verona Pharma’s CEO, Jan-Anders Karlsson. “Millions of patients prefer to use a handheld device, and these data significantly expand [the drug’s] commercial potential.”
Verona Pharma’s lead program is testing the inhaled drug delivered via a nebulizer and the company plans to begin phase III development this year. Verona is also confident that this drug could help to combat the genetic disease cystic fibrosis, and is developing a nebulizer program for this condition in phase II.
These results go some way towards restoring confidence in Verona’s drug. The company hit a bump back in January when it found that the inhaled COPD drug didn’t enhance lung function on top of using two approved drugs in a phase II trial. This setback caused Verona’s stock price to slump by over 30% on the Nasdaq stock exchange, and has remained low ever since.
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