Vancouver company repurposes Soviet Union doping drug to cure kidney disease

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      Receiving a new drug from a doctor involves reading a laundry list of side effects. Medications can trigger unwanted results because of their chemical structure, and while they boost one desired property, they may inhibit another.

      Before a drug enters the market, it must be approved by the Health Products and Food Branch of Health Canada. All new applications must show clinical evidence that the molecule solves its designated issue in a safe way. To fulfill those criteria, trials must be conducted in animals and humans.

      After a drug has been approved, not everything is known about its effects until it has started being prescribed by doctors. As a result, individuals can report any impacts the drugs have on their bodies beyond what’s stated on the label.

      Often, those symptoms might be ailments like drowsiness, headache, or nausea. But sometimes, effects can produce positive results.

      Vancouver company Algernon Pharmaceuticals looks for the latter. It repurposes safe, approved generic drugs that are not available in the U.S. or Europe, and screens them for their ability to cure different diseases to the ones they were originally billed for.

      Today, Algernon announced that Bemethyl (NP-135) and Bromantane (NP-160)—both drugs developed by the Soviet Union to boost the performance of its military and Olympic athletes—are effective for treating chronic kidney disease (CKD), and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH): inflammation caused by a buildup of fat in the liver.

      The company confirmed in multiple animal studies that the two substances were able to reduce fibrosis—a kind of scarring caused by a buildup of connective tissue—at highly statistically significant rates. A press release suggests that the drugs outperformed known anti-fibrotic agents named Telmisartan and Cenicriviroc.

      “We are currently planning off-label phase two clinical trials for both drugs, and, pending the data, the company will begin the process for regulatory approval with the USFDA,” said Christopher J. Moreau, CEO of Algernon. “We also intend to publish our data in a peer-reviewed journal shortly. It is intriguing to think that drugs developed by the Soviet Union during the cold war could end up being viable treatment options for both NASH and CKD on a global scale.”

      Bemethyl (NP-135) was first developed in the USSR in the 1970s, and was used for preparing the state’s athletes for the Olympic Games after it tested the drug on soldiers under extreme conditions such as fatigue and high altitude. The compound is registered as a drug in only three former Soviet countries: Ukraine, Republic of Moldova, and Georgia.

      Bromantane (NP-160) was also developed in the USSR in the 1980s, and has been manufactured in Russia since 1997 under the name Ladasten. It was discontinued in 2018. Similar to Bemethyl, it improved performance under extreme conditions and was later repurposed as a more general treatment for neurasthenia: a condition that encompasses a range of symptoms including lethargy, fatigue, headache, and irritability. The drug is on the list of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned substances.

      The news about both drugs is the second announcement to be released by Algernon this week. Previously, the company suggested that it will be repurposing Sanofi’s Cerocral drug for the treatment of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), another serious chronic disease with limited effective treatment options. 

      Kate Wilson is the Technology Editor at the Georgia Straight. Follow her on Twitter @KateWilsonSays