Dr. N. Tony Eissa, professor of medicine in the section of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, has been awarded a grant as a part of the National Institutes of Health’s Discovering New Therapeutic Uses for Existing Molecules program. BCM has been awarded about $1.3 million for the first year of the study with another $3 million expected as milestones are reached in the study.

The new initiative, led by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and funded by the NIH Common Fund, offers the opportunity for researchers using pharmaceutical industry compounds to explore new treatments in a number of disease areas.

Treatment for lymphangioleiomyomatosis?

Eissa’s work will focus on exploring a new treatment for lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM), a progressive lung disease with no current cure. The disease occurs when atypical cells that originate somewhere in the body spread through the lungs and gradually block small airways to produce cysts. The disease can eventually restrict breathing enough to cause death.

He will study whether the investigational drug saracatinib, provided by AstraZeneca, is safe and can reduce the growth and spread of LAM cells. The first step will be to conduct preclinical studies in cells and mice, and if those are successful he and his research colleagues will conduct multicenter clinical trials in patients with LAM.

Goal to reduce mobility of LAM cells

"Although the origin of LAM cells is unknown, it is clear that they migrate to the lungs from somewhere else in the body," said Eissa. "The proposed new treatment will try to reduce the growth, mobility and invasiveness of LAM cells. This work is being tested in cells at the bench and in mice before moving to humans."

"It is such a satisfying feeling for physician-scientists to see research moving from the bench to the clinic. This novel NIH program allows for such fast transition in a pre-thought out frame of work," he said.

Investigators that will take part in the study include Drs. Alexey Tyryshkin and Nicola Hanania of BCM, Dr. Francis McCormack of the University of Cincinnati, Dr. Khalid Almoosa of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Dr. Daniel Dilling of Loyola University of Chicago and Dr. Stephen Ruoss of Stanford University. In addition, Drs. Hye-Seung Lee and Jeffrey Krischer of the University of South Florida will serve as the Data Coordinating Center for the studies.

Eissa holds the Nancy Chang, Ph.D., Endowed Chair for The Biology of Inflammation Center at BCM.