Pharma connecting nicotine receptors and endocannabinoid system for treatment of inflammatory disease.
UK-based GW Pharmaceuticals made headlines in 2018 when the FDA approved its cannabis-based drug. But it’s 2019 now, and this is old news. Now, another pharmaceutical company is tackling the therapeutic benefits of cannabis, specifically endocannabinoid receptors for the treatment of inflammatory disease. This time it’s an American-based company, Katexco, formed in partnership between two Stanford University scientists, Dr. Jonathan Rothbard and Professor Lawrence Steinman.
Who Are the Newest Investors?
Katexco is only the latest pharmaceutical company to focus on the exciting intersection between medical cannabis, endocannabinoid receptors, and disease. They announced their formation in late 2018, and plan to target a wide range of medical issues, with the first round of objectives on gastrointestinal disorders, gout, and Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
If successful, the second round of targets would move into cannabis-based therapies for rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and atherosclerosis. To the untrained eye, their intended range of medical conditions is broad in scope. But, at their roots, they’re all linked through one fundamental cause – inflammation.
Inflammation Researchers on the Project
Increasingly, experts are theorizing that all disease is in some way tied to an out of control inflammatory response. Founders Rothbard and Steinman believe that through targeting the body’s overactive inflammatory response, they can control the signs and symptoms of many diseases. They are in a unique position to develop endocannabinoid-based approaches to illness.
Throughout his professional career, Steinman has worked on multiple new therapeutic approaches to inflammatory disease, including drugs currently undergoing clinical trials, and even one that has been approved under the name Natalizumab. Natalizumab treats Crohn’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis. His resume is also studded with prestigious scientific awards, handed down from the likes of international universities, the National MS Society, and the US Congress.
Co-founder Rothbard began working in immunology in the 1980s. His career has since led to the development of multiple pharmaceutical companies including Immulogic, CellGate, and Amylin,which has since sold for $5.4 billion. Throughout his many pharmaceutical endeavors, he maintained an active academic life at Stanford University, working within the chemistry, rheumatology, and now the neurology department.
A Novel Approach, Katexco Explores Cannabinoid and Nicotine Receptors
Katexco is tackling gastrointestinal disease and MS by looking at receptors located on white blood cells. In research recently presented at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in March 2018, Steinman described the discovery of these receptors and the idea that, with further exploration, these receptors could play a key role in reducing unwanted inflammation.
If Katexco is successful, they will have a specially designed orally delivered treatment for MS. The treatment mimics a protein structure called amyloid, which researchers have previously shown reduces inflammation through interaction with endocannabinoid receptors located on white blood cells. Katexco plans to exploit this newly discovered receptor relationship for novel approaches to MS treatment, and perhaps gastrointestinal disease.
In an interview for Benzinga, Rothbard explained how a cannabis compound, CBD, holds the key to this pharmaceutical approach. In his words, “The Katexco compound synergizes with the body’s signaling pathways for cannabis, and thus may enable more potent pharmaceuticals with fewer side effects”. What this means is that, by taking advantage of how cannabis moves through the endocannabinoid system for therapeutic benefit, the compounds they design can have a more targeted approach. Plus, it will benefit from the largely positive safety profile of the plant.
Cannabis as an Anti-Inflammatory Compound
Rothbard and Steinman are building on a large body of cannabis research. In doing so, they have highlighted the fascinating role of cannabinoids in reducing inflammation. Although most of the research remains in the early stages of development, the ability of cannabis to reduce inflammation is likely why so many patients already rely on the plant for the treatment of illness and disease. Cannabis is the treatment of choice for people with conditions ranging from chronic pain to MS to glaucoma, not to mention digestive issues, like irritable bowel disease and Crohn’s. Evidently cannabis has an influence over an overactive immune system. And now researchers are working to figure out the mechanisms behind this influence.
Thus far, some of the studies linking cannabinoids to inflammation revolve around signaling proteins called cytokines. These are the chemical communicators released by immune cells, which communicate the start and finish of each response. With the introduction of cannabinoids (THC in this case), there is a “disruption of the well-regulated immune response”.
Cannabis’s Effect on the Immune System
Another method through which cannabis may prove to be a successful therapy for autoimmune issues is through its powerful immunosuppressive properties. Cannabis, in particular, THC, triggers immune apoptosis – or cell death. Naturally, the immune cell population needs to return to normal before the body returns to homeostasis. But, what happens if nothing triggers the die off? Cannabis could be the key to returning immune cell levels back to normal. In other studies, CBD and CBN cannabinoids also triggered immunosuppression through apoptosis.
Big Pharma companies have a history of turning natural remedies into synthetic, expensive pharmaceutical solutions. Thankfully, it sounds as if Katexco has another idea in mind, as they develop a range of medical cannabis-derived anti-inflammatory drugs for the treatment of MS and gastrointestinal diseases. Instead of selling out, they have repeated their dedication to the development of safe and affordable options.