Working towards more effective treatment for inflammatory bowel disease

More Canadians suffer from inflammatory bowel disease than anywhere else in the world, yet current treatments often have debilitating side effects and aren’t always effective.

GlycoNet investigators hope to change this by developing a new type of treatment that would be more effective by targeting the release of drugs in the large intestine.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which impacts 1 in 150 Canadians and includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, occurs when the immune system overreacts to environmental and microbial stress and begins attacking the intestine. This can lead to severe abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea, weight loss, and life-threatening complications.

Photo courtesy of University of British Columbia

“IBD has a significant economic impact – in the billions of dollars. Half of this comes from the direct costs associated with IBD treatment, where no definitive cure exists, and the other half comes from the loss of productivity in those afflicted with the disease,” says Dr. Harry Brumer (photo inset), lead investigator and researcher at the University of British Columbia.

Currently, inflammatory bowel disease is most often treated using antiinflammatory drugs, but these are usually absorbed in the stomach or small intestine before they can reach the colon, where they are needed.

Brumer believes that using a glycomics-based approach to drug development will be more effective and will be able to ensure targeted drug release in the colon. Their approach focuses on establishing prodrugs – drugs that are inactive until they are metabolized inside the body – that are triggered by unique enzymes found only in the colon.

“It is our hope that we can establish a broad portfolio of novel, glycoconjugate prodrugs to treat [intestinal] inflammation, and validate their potential for translation into human and non-human animal therapies,” says Brumer. “The next step is to take these results into model studies in mice, and transfer this technology into commercialization under the GlycoNet framework.”

“There is significant potential to provide economic benefit for all Canadians, and improve the quality of life for those afflicted with inflammatory bowel disease.”

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