Modified beta-blocker could give heart, lung disease sufferers a reprieve

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Researchers at the University of Nottingham in England, have been awarded $4.9 million by the Wellcome Trust to develop a new drug that could ease the suffering of hundreds of thousands of heart disease patients, who are unable to take beta-blockers.

In the U.K., 2.6 million people suffer from heart disease and most are able to have their symptoms effectively managed with the prescription of beta-blocker drugs. However, a major side effect of beta-blockers is that they worsen asthma and other breathing problems’ symptoms. Approximately 300,000 U.K. patients, who also suffer from respiratory conditions, are prevented from taking them.

Now, a team of scientists from the University's Schools of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy will use the Wellcome’s funding, made under the Seeding Drug Discovery initiative, to conduct a three-year study to develop a modified type of beta-blocker that will treat heart disease and angina without exacerbating any underlying respiratory problems.

If successful, the researchers said that the new drug could become the general medicine of choice for all heart patients because its targeted action will lead to a significant reduction in overall side effects. Even the best currently available beta-blockers are poor at discriminating between the heart and lungs, causing the muscles in the lungs to tighten and making breathing more difficult in some patients who have a pre-existing lung complaint.

The Nottingham scientists have already developed a molecule that is much more effective at discriminating between the heart and lungs than current drugs. The funding will allow them to carry out further studies to improve the molecule to ensure that it is able to target the heart cells more effectively. The aim is that the resulting drug will be long-lasting and could be taken orally, according to investigators.

Leading the research, Jill Baker, MD, from the School of Biomedical Sciences said that “once developed, this molecule will cause much less wheezing and shortness of breath and should be able to be given safely to the hundreds of thousands of patients with both heart and lung diseases. Furthermore, because it will have so few side effects, it has the potential to become the beta-blocker of choice for all heart patients.”