Nuogen Pharma: Innovation in the fight against itch

Dermatology TimesDermatology Times, April 2020 (Vol. 41, No. 4)
Volume 41
Issue 4

Nuogen Pharma’s mission is to deliver the first FDA-approved anti-itch medication for chronic pruritus of unknown origin (CPUO) and other chronic itch conditions.

person itching red skin on arm
Duke Leahey

Mr. Leahey

Brian Kim, M.D.

Dr. Kim

Steve Xu, M.D.

Dr. Xu

We have all been here: A very nice patient sits in the chair. She is desperately trying not to scratch. A stack of papers on the table is filled with laboratory results and urine tests. Next to that is a plastic bag filled topical products that have failed. She’s asking for your help to give her relief. As a dermatologist, these patients break my heart.

Chronic pruritus, defined as itch lasting greater than six weeks, affects approximately 15% of the population and is highly debilitating. Although chronic itch can present in the context of a variety of inflammatory skin disorders, as well as other medical conditions like kidney and liver failure, it commonly arises independently of any defined cause. In this setting, it is referred to as chronic pruritus of unknown origin (CPUO), which accounts for up to 40% of individuals with chronic itch. Strikingly, there are no FDA-approved medications to treat CPUO and most other chronic itch disorders. Thus, there is an urgent need for innovation in this space to develop novel anti-itch therapies.

Nuogen Pharma, Inc., is an early stage biopharmaceutical company co-founded by Duke Leahey, CEO, and Brian S. Kim, M.D, CSO, based on key discoveries from Dr. Kim’s laboratory at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Nuogen Pharma’s mission is to deliver the first FDA-approved anti-itch medication for CPUO and other chronic itch conditions.

Dr. Kim and Mr. Leahey met in 2015 through a mutual colleague who was aware of the high-impact research underway in the Kim Lab. Building upon the discovery that inhibition of Janus kinases in sensory neurons potently treats itch, published in Cell in 2017, a patent was led for the use of JAK inhibitors for chronic itch.

Leveraging this innovation, Nuogen Pharma was formed in November of 2018 and is working with experienced partners in the pharmaceutical industry to develop novel JAK inhibitors that can be delivered directly to the nervous system via an intranasal route of delivery. This strategy would allow for maximum e cacy of drug while minimizing hematological side effects that are associated with JAK inhibitors.

The vision for Nuogen Pharma is to be an exclusive anti-itch pharmaceutical company that rapidly brings novel technologies to the highly unmet market of chronic itch. Chronic itch is one of the most common symptoms in all of dermatology and medicine. Therefore, Nuogen Pharma’s mission is to bring soothing relief to millions of patients who suffer from this silent epidemic.

Severe itch can be as debilitating as severe pain. There are few conditions in the house of medicine that cause as much patient suffering with so few options. Ongoing development for drugs like difelikefalin, which is being studied for hemodialysis patients with moderate-to-severe pruritus; nemolizumab, which was granted breakthrough therapy status by the FDA for prurigo nodularis; and JAK inhibitors like those being developed by Nuogen Pharma, offer new and much needed therapeutic options for itch.

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