Innovation that goes bone-deep at University of Alberta

Elevate postdoc helps develop new drug to treat osteoporosis

Researchers like Yang Yang, a Mitacs Elevate postdoctoral fellow in the Pharmaceutical Orthopaedic Research lab at the University of Alberta, are tackling the problem head-on by developing new treatments for the disease. In partnership with Osteo-Metabolix Pharmaceuticals Inc., Yang has created a new drug that does a better job of healing broken bones.

He started by looking at a commonly-used drug, Parathyroid Hormone (PTH), and realizing it wasn’t very efficient. “The problem when someone takes PTH is that it goes to more places than just her bones — it ends up in all of her body’s cells. The drug also doesn’t last very long. Our team wanted to create a drug that would be more stable and more effective.”

Drawing from his expertise in radiopharmaceutical chemistry and getting support from the Department of Oncology in the university’s Faculty of Medicine, Yang studied how PTH moves through the body after it gets injected. The team then added some new chemicals to improve it: Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) made PTH more stable, while Bisphosphonate (BP) allowed it to move straight to bones and avoid other tissues. He then put the new drug, called PTH-PEG-BP, through four months of testing.

“It was a success,” says Yang. “The new drug is twice as effective as PTH!”

News of the drug attracted positive attention from the provincial government’s Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures group. It partnered with Osteo-Metabolix to develop the drug and run more tests. The news also caught the interest of some major drug manufacturers attending a pharmaceutical conference in Chicago, which could help future clinical trials. Yang says while the patent for the new drug has been published, it will probably be another decade before it’s commercially available to patients.

“Patients might only need a single injection each week, for just half a year. That’s a lot less time in the hospital, which is better for patients’ well-being, and it represents a big financial savings for the healthcare system. Taxpayers will then benefit even more, because the savings from osteoporosis treatments can be used in other areas of healthcare.”

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and Alberta Innovates for their support of the Elevate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Elevate program also receives support from the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan and Research Manitoba.

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