New drug could protect against bioterror threats

A new drug now entering Phase I clinical trials could be used to strengthen the immune system against bioterrorism threats and deadly epidemics.

The Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) and University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center developed PUL-042, which is an inhalant meant to prime the immune system and provide short-term protection against viral, fungal and bacterial pathogens. The inhalant might also protect against seasonal and pandemic influenza virus and asthma attacks.

"The lungs are the point of entry for many viruses and bacteria," Magnus Höök, a distinguished professor at the TAMHSC Institute for Biosciences and Technology, said. "We hypothesized that activating the innate immune defense of the lungs might provide effective protection against a wide range of deadly pathogens."

While the drug was initially developed to prevent pneumonia in cancer patients, PUL-042 could be used to help patients fight off epidemics for three to four days.

"A development seven years in the making, we are delighted to see the technology advancing into clinical trials, moving us one step closer toward our end goal: bringing this protective therapy to the market to save lives and address a critical unmet need worldwide," Höök said. "Ultimately, this drug has the potential to alter our vulnerability to deadly epidemics and bioterror threats."

The first phase will test the safety and tolerability of PUL-042. If the drug passes through all stages of clinical development, it could be available on the market in the next four to five years.