Cognosci seeking to prevent or reduce the damaging affects of inflammation

Cognosci seeking to prevent or reduce the damaging affects of inflammation

Inflammation is a common response to a variety of insults to the human body. It is a sign that cells and fluids are converging for combat. But all too often, chronic or prolonged inflammation can damage surrounding tissues and nerves.

Sure, aspirin or ibuprofen and a bit of ice will reduce the swelling of a simple bump, or even a sunburn.

And steroids may alleviate some of the inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis, the autoimmune disorder that incorrectly attacks the cells and structures of joint tissues. But steroids have nasty side effects, so long-term use is not advised.

Since 1997, Cognosci Inc. of Research Triangle Park has been working to develop safe and effective therapies for the more serious and chronic forms of inflammation. Cognosci is developing COG-133, a novel anti-inflammatory peptide compound that effectively reduces inflammation in both in vitro-based and in vivo-based assays.

Closed traumatic brain injury is the first condition that Cognosci hopes to address, and animal studies have shown the compound’s ability to quickly reduce inflammation. Traumatic brain injury often occurs as the result of serious car accidents or falls that traumatize the brain without cracking or breaking the skull.

Within seconds of such trauma, the brain begins to swell from the fluid and cell buildup, and there is nowhere for the pressure to go since the brain is encased in the skull. Such pressure can choke and kill brain cells, causing permanent brain damage and also death.

There is currently no ultimate “cure” for closed traumatic brain injury. According to Michael Vitek, Ph.D., Cognosci’s founder, president and CEO, time is a critical component for head trauma. The longer the swelling continues, the more likely a patient can develop permanent brain damage, resulting in physical impairments, loss of memory and the inability to learn new skills. Doctors are reduced to watching, waiting and hoping that their patients recover, so there is a grave need for any therapy that improves outcomes.

Cognosci hopes to eventually develop a drug that could be administered at the scene of an accident, thereby reducing the swelling in minutes and decreasing the likelihood of permanent brain damage.

“We are ready for pre-clinical trials of an experimental drug that could be administered at the scene of an accident and effectively limit permanent brain damage,” Vitek said. “We are extremely optimistic about its potential for reversing the neuronal damage caused by traumatic brain injury. We believe COG-133 can help patients recover damaged neuronal function, allowing them to live normal lives.”

Cognosci was largely created around technology acquired from Dr. Daniel Laskowitz, a Duke researcher and practicing neurologist, and Vitek, a neurobiologist. Vitek has done extensive research on neurodegenerative diseases and inflammation for Duke, GlaxoWellcome, Burroughs-Wellcome and Lederle Laboratories, to name a few.

“I had ideas, he (Laskowitz) had ideas, and it all came together,” Vitek said.

With animal studies on brain trauma complete, Vitek said the company will begin the process of preparing for an investigational new drug (IND) application and conducting Phase I clinical trials. So far, there has been enough funding through federal grants–to the tune of $4 million–but the next steps will likely require raising money or developing partnerships.

“So far, we have only had to flirt with venture capitalists,” Vitek said.

COG-133 has potential far beyond the proposed treatment of head trauma, however.

“Osteoarthritis is an excellent candidate for a one-two punch: we can hit it with COG-133, and we believe that we have a protease inhibitor in the pipeline that reduces inflammation, particularly when used in combination with COG-133,” he said.

Millions of patients suffer from inflammation associated with Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Even some cardiac patients who undergo heart surgery with the use of a heart-lung machine can suffer brain trauma and inflammation, and so would also be a target for Cognosci’s potential therapy.

“Inflammation is bad in these types of diseases because it causes cell death. If you can tone down the inflammation then patients can hopefully return to a normal life.”

COPYRIGHT 2003 North Carolina Biotechnology Center

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