Promising new sepsis treatment boosted by BHF funding

18 November 2015        

Picture of Dr James Leiper from the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre.

A promising new drug for sepsis is on the horizon thanks to new funding made possible by your donations. It could help take the laboratory discovery into the clinic.

The first clinical trials of a treatment for deadly septic shock could be just 18 months away if new research we are funding, led by Dr James Leiper (pictured) at the Medical Research Council Clinical Sciences Centre (MRC CSC), is successful.

Listen to an interview with Dr Leiper from the Imperial College London podcast.

Why we are funding sepsis research

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition caused by an infection. It leads to more than 100,000 people being admitted to hospital in the UK each year. But over a third, around 37,000, of those people die. While antibiotics can effectively treat the infection, the body’s response to the infection can cause dangerously low blood pressure, organ failure and death. An effective treatment for this aspect of sepsis is urgently needed and many drugs have already failed to make it through clinical trials.

The funding, through one our new Translational Awards, will cover the costs of further studies to find different forms of a potential drug to treat the dangerous effects of sepsis. One of these new forms could then be taken into clinical trials.

The importance of laboratory research

Early funding for the research, awarded back in 2002, also came from the BHF. This funding supported the laboratory animal research where the discovery was made of the potential of a drug called L-257. It works by reducing the production of the chemical nitric oxide. During sepsis high nitric oxide levels can cause dangerously low blood pressure and ultimately organ failure.

In mice L-257 has been shown to improve survival and reduce organ failure during sepsis. The researchers are confident it will be safe and effective at treating sepsis in people.

The challenges of developing a drug

Describing the problems faced by people coming up with new drugs for sepsis, Dr Leiper said:

"Developing treatments for sepsis has been called the 'graveyard for pharmaceutical companies' because people with sepsis are often in a highly unstable condition. This can make it very difficult to detect whether a treatment is working. Therefore clinical trials for sepsis treatments often end up being very large and very expensive. But with the BHF’s support we should be able to reduce these risks, and make L-257 a very attractive product for taking into clinical trials."

Our Medical Director, Professor Peter Weissberg, echoed Dr Leiper:

"We’ve recognised in our new research strategy that there can be many obstacles preventing exciting laboratory discoveries from benefiting patients. We launched our Translational Awards to provide researchers with the funding they need to carry out work that can help them overcome those obstacles and attract the substantial investment needed to make a new drug or test available for patients."

Help fund future breakthroughs

Your donations have funded research which has helped make significant advances in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cardiovascular disease. Since the BHF was founded in 1961 the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease in the UK has more than halved. However, there is much more to do and our new five year research strategy will only be deliverable with your continued support and generosity.