‘Very basic research’ is providing new treatment for fibrotic disease

A decade after first identifying serum amyloid P (SAP) as a key protein in human blood that controls routine tissue-related processes from scarring to healing, two Texas A&M University scientists and the biotechnology company they co-founded continue to make encouraging progress in the fight against fibrotic disease, a broad class of chronic conditions associated with an estimated 45 percent of U.S. deaths per year.

Texas A&M biologists Richard Gomer and Darrell Pilling have collaborated in recent years on several SAP-related advances, from establishing Promedior Inc. in 2006 to celebrating its promising preliminary results in early clinical trials involving PRM-151, a recombinant form of SAP.

Gomer notes that in a recent 24-week study of 27 patients with myelofibrosis — a life-threatening scarring of the bone marrow — seven of the patients experienced a 50 percent reduction of symptoms with PRM-151, while five experienced a reduction in fibrosis.

The results, initially revealed by Promedior at the June 2 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago, have since been presented at additional conferences and symposia.

“More trials are definitely in the future,” Gomer said. “As for which of the 62 fibrotic diseases will be involved in the next trial, that’s a complicated business decision that depends on potential partners, among other factors.”

The origins of Gomer and Pilling’s breakthrough work in fibrosing disease therapy unfolded on an international stage, albeit a seemingly inconsequential one — a lunch table in a crowded cafeteria in England in 2001. During the interlude of a developmental biology conference, the two scientists — Gomer, then a biochemist at Rice University, and Pilling, a British immunobiologist — discovered they had similar interests and agreed to collaborate on some future protein identification work.

“Unexpectedly, we ended up finding a human blood protein that looked like it might be a therapeutic for fibrosis,” Gomer said.

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