Coventry scientist's heart breakthrough could save lives

Research news

Monday 21 July 2014

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A Coventry University scientist has developed a pioneering new way – using real human heart tissue – to test the effect of drugs on the heart without using human or animal trials.

The breakthrough is the work of Dr Helen Maddock – an expert in cardiovascular physiology and pharmacology from the University's Centre for Applied Biological and Exercise Sciences – and could lead to the lives of hundreds of future patients being saved and the quality of their treatments improved.

Adverse effects of drugs on the cardiovascular system are a major cause of many medical treatments failing, but heart-related side-effects can often only be detected once a drug is being used on patients in clinical trials – by which time it is too late.

Dr Maddock's in vitro technique – which means 'in glass' in reference to it taking place in a laboratory environment rather than in a living organism – uses a specimen of heart tissue attached to a rig allowing the muscle to be lengthened and shortened whilst being stimulated by an electrical impulse, mimicking the biomechanical performance of cardiac muscle.

Trial drugs can then be added to the tissue to determine whether or not they have an adverse effect on the force of contraction of the muscle (and therefore of the heart), a test that could only previously be performed in vivo – i.e. on living animals – often with inconclusive results.

This simulated cardiovascular system – known as a work-loop assay – provides the most realistic model of heart muscle dynamics in the world to date, and opens up unprecedented possibilities for identifying negative effects of drugs early and inexpensively – potentially saving lives and speeding up the development of successful drug treatments.

Dr Maddock has formed a spin-out company – InoCardia Ltd – from Coventry University to begin implementing her groundbreaking technique in the pharma industry, and it has already received a quarter of a million pound investment from Warwickshire-based technology investment firm Mercia Fund Management.

Dr Maddock, who spent almost ten years developing the technique, said:

I'm delighted that our research is at a stage where we can confidently say the work-loop assay we've created is the world's only clinically relevant in vitro human model of cardiac contractility. It has the potential to shave years off the development of successful drugs for a range of treatments.

Both the pharma industry and regulators recognise that existing methods of assessing the contractility of the heart are fraught with problems, so we're incredibly excited to be able to introduce a new way to accurately determine the safety of drugs in respect of the heart without the need to test on humans or animals.

Mark Payton, managing director of Mercia Fund Management, added:

InoCardia benefits from a proprietary approach following many years of investigation by Helen and her team, and offers the potential for early screening of compounds in development without the initial need for extensive animal trials. Through a markedly accelerated drug development process, this will decrease timelines to drug development, and as a consequence greatly reduce the cost of new drug development. The end beneficiary will, of course, be patients receiving novel treatments sooner.

Dr Maddock and InoCardia Ltd are already in discussions with a multinational biopharmaceutical company with a view to applying the assay in industry.

 

For further information, please contact Alex Roache, external press and media relations officer, Coventry University, on 024 7765 5050 or email alex.roache@coventry.ac.uk.


About Mercia Fund Managementwww.merciafund.co.uk

Mercia Fund Management (MFM) is a Midland's based investment business investing nationally with over £22 million and growing under active management.

MFM provides investment growth capital for technology-backed businesses ranging from early commercial traction through to those seeking expansion or working capital that are trading profitably. Furthermore, MFM can also provide cost-effective post-seed incubator accommodation, The Forward House Workspace, at its modern facility Forward House in Henley-in-Arden for established portfolio companies, as well as early stage non-portfolio companies, looking for a supportive dynamic environment on offer from an incumbent investment manager who can also provide centralised support services.

MFM is an FCA authorised and regulated fund manager under FSMA (FRN: 524856).

About Coventry Universitywww.coventry.ac.uk

Coventry University is a forward-looking modern university whose roots can be traced back to 1843 to the Coventry School of Design. With a proud tradition as a provider of high quality education and a focus on multidisciplinary research, the University has established a robust academic presence regionally, nationally and across the world.

Through its links with leading-edge businesses and organizations in a variety of industries, Coventry University's 24,000+ students enjoy access to placement opportunities which ensure that their employment prospects are enhanced by the time they graduate. Its students also benefit from state-of-the-art equipment and facilities in all academic disciplines from health, sport science and performing arts to industrial design, engineering and computing.

Coventry University is currently the highest placed modern university in both the Guardian and Times and Sunday Times league tables, ranking 27th and 45th respectively – the highest ever rankings for a post-1992 institution.