From Apnea to Zzzs Relief

From Apnea to Zzzs Relief


n IIT Research Institute (IITRI) scientist and Illinois Institute of Technology biology professor is working to provide convenient relief to some of the estimated 22 million Americans who suffer from sleep apnea. David McCormick, IITRI president and director, is collaborating with University of Chicago Harold Hines Jr. Professor of Medicine Nanduri Prabhakar to develop a sleep apnea pill that becomes active in about 15 minutes and lasts for 7 to 8 hours.

More than contributing to poor shut-eye, apnea is a common, yet potentially dangerous disorder in which normal breathing is suspended, especially during sleep. United States Food and Drug Administration-approved treatments for sleep apnea include oral appliances, but the most common in use is the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which uses mild air pressure to keep the body’s airways open. The FDA has not yet approved a pharmaceutical to treat sleep apnea, so if McCormick’s drug becomes commercially available, it would be pioneering.

“The problem with CPAP machines is that about half of the people quit using them after a couple of months,” says McCormick, whose startup goes by the name of Anapneo Therapeutics. “They’re noisy. They’re uncomfortable. They’re hot. And they don’t always work.”

A five-year, $8.6 million grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (part of the National Institutes of Health) is supporting the development and testing of the potential pill. As a result of Anapneo’s recent victory in the George Schultz Innovation Fund competition, the University of Chicago has made a $250,000 investment to support work on the chemistry manufacturing and controls portion of the drug approval process. McCormick is also seeking venture capital to complete the filing of an Investigational New Drug application to the FDA, along with Phase I and Phase II clinical trials. The clinical trials of Anapneo’s lead compound are expected to begin in 2020.       

“These people will get more sleep. They will have many fewer apneas, and they’re going to wake up much less often during the night,” says McCormick. David McCormick and Nanduri Prabhakar, “Therapeutic Targeting of Carotid Body Chemoreflex for Sleep Disordered Breathing,” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute ($8,601,288; Illinois Tech: $3,786,584)

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Research Chemist Deborah Millard and IITRI President and Director David McCormick discuss progress being made in the sleep apnea drug project.