Jefferson scientists find clues to safer asthma drug

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    (Photo via ShutterStock)

    Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia have identified a promising new drug target that points the way to a second generation of asthma treatments.

    Beta-agonists are highly effective for asthmatics: they turn on receptors to relax muscles lining the airways, opening them up, and allowing a user to breathe better. But for some patients, they can stop working — and there can be serious side effects, including death.

    “With the beta-agonist inhalers, there is a black box warning on many of them,” said Jefferson biochemist Jeffrey Benovic, the senior author of the new study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

    To get the benefits without the risks, the Jefferson team designed a series of specialized peptides to enter cells and trigger only a portion of the receptor’s effects. The team hit upon one that appears to work, although Benovic said it’s not yet ready for prime time.

    “If we want to really develop a better asthma drug,” he said, “we need to identify a small molecule, which will interact with the receptor and stabilize that same conformation.”

    Benovic estimated that may take several years, but said his team is already preparing to screen for promising candidates.

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