Targeting epithelial cells to treat pulmonary fibrosis

Investigator: Dean Sheppard, MD
Sponsor: NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Location(s): United States


This grant will address two critical needs - developing effective treatments for pulmonary fibrosis and better ways to determine if drugs are actually hitting their targets. By targeting specific well-defined pathways, modifying drugs for delivery into the airways, and identifying markers of drug efficacy from readilly available sites, we hope to dramatically improve current approaches to treatment of pulmonary fibrosis.

This translational program project grant is designed to develop new effective therapies for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). The grant is entirely focused on developing new drugs that specifically target known pathways in alveolar epithelial cells that are critical fo the development of pulmonary fibrosis. The grant will also use a novel, mechanism-based approach to identify informative biomarkers from human cells and tissues that should provide early indicators of the effectiveness of each of the drugs we develop in subsequent early phase clinical trials in patients with IPF. The rationale for this grant is that IPF is a consequence of n-going epithelial stress and apoptosis, which leads to activation of extracellular latent TGFbeta by the alpha nu beta integrin on alveolar epithelial cells, which in turn induces progressive fibrosis at least in part through induction of TGFbeta signaling in epithelial cells. The proposal includes 3 projects which will each utilize multiple mouse models of pulmonary fibrosis to evaluate the efficacy of existing drug agents that target apoptosis induced by the unfolded protein response, integrin-mediated TGFbeta activation and TGFbeta signaling in epithelial cells, and to develop novel agents with improved potency and reduced systemic toxicity. By parallel analysis of the effects of these drug agents on human alveolar epithelail cells and human lung fragments, these projects will further asess the applicability of murine findings to humans. Each project will also take advantage of serial samples of blood and BAL cells and fluid from patients with IPF and healthy controls to characterize the utiltiy and reproducibility of putative biologically informative biomarkers. These projects will be supported by a human lung cell and tissue core, a longitudinal cohort core, a mediciinal chemistry core and a centralized administrative core. By performing extenisve pre-clinical analysis of the most promising candidate drugs, establishing their effectiveness in human lung, and developing read-outs of drug effectiveness that can be detected in blood, bronchoalveolar lavage fluid or alveolar macrophages, the work performed should lay the groundwork for clinical trials of the most promising candidates in a planned second phase of this program.