TUCSON, Ariz. – Researchers at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy have reformulated Suramin, a 100-year old drug previously used to treat African sleeping sickness, to fight oral mucositis and diabetic foot ulcers. This breakthrough development has the potential to benefit thousands of patients whose current healing options are either partially effective or painful and invasive.
Oral mucositis – or ulcers and sores of the mouth and throat – is a common side effect of chemotherapy and radiation in patients with cancer of the head and neck. About 40% of chemotherapy and all radiation patients develop oral mucositis. This side effect is riddled with symptoms such as trouble breathing, swallowing and eating, as well as intense pain and an overall decline in quality of life. If left untreated, these sores can lead to life-threatening infections.
People with diabetes face a related problem: diabetic foot ulcers. These ulcers, the most common complication that diabetic patients experience, directly result in 85% of diabetes-related amputations and present yet another unmet medical need that Suramin is well-equipped to meet.
Heidi Mansour, PhD, associate professor in the College of Pharmacy and director for the pharmaceutics and pharmacokinetics program, and Rick Schnellmann, PhD, dean of the College of Pharmacy, the Howard J. Schaeffer Endowed Chair in Pharmaceutical Sciences and professor of pharmacology and toxicology, teamed up with Keith Kirkwood, DDS, PhD, to create a reformulated version of Suramin. A periodontics specialist, Dr. Kirkwood is a professor of oral biology at the University of Buffalo’s School of Dental Medicine whose research has focused on head, neck and oral cancers. He and Dr. Schnellman began looking into Suramin when they both worked at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). When Dr. Schnellmann returned from MUSC in 2016 to the UArizona – his alma mater where he earned his doctorate – he and Dr. Mansour began examining Suramin further as a treatment for topical wounds.
They soon realized that the properties of Suramin exhibited great promise for wound healing. Dr. Mansour’s expertise in drug delivery, combined with Dr. Schnellmann’s pharmacological expertise, led to the development of a series of application methods for the new medication. These creams, ointments, hydrogels, nanoparticles and viscous liquids are all potential topical products that can leverage Suramin for the treatment of both oral mucositis and diabetic foot ulcers, providing an easy-to-use, self-administered alternative to injections.
Dr. Mansour said a medication like this could be a boon for patients who suffer from these ailments. “What’s exciting is that it’s a first-in-class treatment for two large patient populations in a space where there is a big unmet medical need, both in the diabetic population and in the cancer population. These complications are therapeutically limiting, meaning it affects how those diseases are treated,” she said.
Dr. Schnellmann, always with an eye to the real-world application of the discoveries of the college, notes that commercializing discoveries developed through research should be on the mind of every researcher.
“Commercialization is key for the future of the college,” he said. “Part of the purpose of the research the college conducts is to create a drug that will be viable in the marketplace and benefit the patients that it targets. There tends to be a higher success rate in repurposing an existing drug, which is what we have done here.”
Both researchers are working with Tech Launch Arizona, the commercialization arm of the UArizona that helps move innovations from idea to lab to market, to grow their connections with industry and move this discovery toward commercialization.
Learn more about this invention here: “UA18-037, Advanced Engineered Formulations of Suramin Microparticles and Nanoparticles for Drug Delivery and Applications Therein.”
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NOTE: Photos and video available upon request.
About the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy
The University of Arizona College of Pharmacy is the premier pharmacy college in the Southwest, and one of the top in the nation, focused on drug discovery, toxicology, pharmaceutics, health outcomes and sciences, pharmaceutical education and research through interprofessional training and collaborative public/private partnerships. Preparing pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists in undergraduate, professional, graduate and post-doctoral programs, the college embraces an entrepreneurial spirit, providing tailored educational opportunities to broaden students' experiences. Established 72 years ago as the first health sciences college at UArizona, the college has a long history of improving science and health, both in Arizona and around the world. It is currently ranked No. 8 among the nation’s 143 colleges of pharmacy by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. For more information: pharmacy.arizona.edu (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube).
About the University of Arizona Health Sciences
The University of Arizona Health Sciences is the statewide leader in biomedical research and health professions training. UArizona Health Sciences includes the Colleges of Medicine (Tucson and Phoenix), Nursing, Pharmacy, and the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, with main campus locations in Tucson and the Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. From these vantage points, Health Sciences reaches across the state of Arizona, the greater Southwest and around the world to provide next-generation education, research and outreach. A major economic engine, Health Sciences employs nearly 5,000 people, has approximately 4,000 students and 900 faculty members, and garners $200 million in research grants and contracts annually. For more information: uahs.arizona.edu (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | LinkedIn | Instagram).