Therapy targets cause of organ failure

Patients suffering organ failure caused by a common inflammatory condition could be helped by a new therapy.

Scientists have discovered an experimental medicine that protects against organ damage caused by a condition called acute pancreatitis.

The research offers hope for the illness, which has no current treatment, and which affects thousands of people in the UK each year and places a huge burden on intensive care facilities.


Acute pancreatitis is caused by a severe inflammatory reaction in the pancreas, which is usually triggered by gallstones or excessive alcohol consumption. Pancreatitis is not a disease caused by infection.

Intensive care

Most patients are admitted to hospital but recover without any specialist treatment. However, one in five people with the condition develop life-threatening complications that require intensive care.

These people can need breathing support, tube feeding and sometimes kidney dialysis and one in five of those will die.

Vital organs

If the inflammation affecting the pancreas spreads throughout the body, vital organs, for example the lungs, kidneys and gut can fail.

Currently, the only way to treat organ failure caused by the condition is to support the functions of the body in the hope that the inflammation resolves.

Key enzyme

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have previously identified a key enzyme called KMO, which fuels the inflammation linked to the condition.

A team from the University’s Medical Research Council Centre for Inflammation Research and the University/BHF Centre for Cardiovascular Science worked with scientists from GlaxoSmithKline to identify a chemical compound that blocks KMO.

New therapy

In carefully controlled studies using mice and rats, they found that this approach calms inflammation in acute pancreatitis and protects against organ failure caused by the condition.

Acute pancreatitis is a hugely important health problem and one of the most terrible diseases any individual can suffer

Mr Damian MoleSurgeon and Principal Investigator, MRC Centre for Inflammation Research, University of Edinburgh


The research is the product of a Discovery Partnership with Academia (DPAc) collaboration between the University of Edinburgh and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

In late 2011, Edinburgh BioQuarter negotiated the partnership, integrating the University’s in-depth knowledge of acute pancreatitis, the target and disease biology, with GSK’s expertise in making new medicines.

We are immensely encouraged that selective KMO inhibition might provide a therapy to treat acute pancreatitis and are excited to be working with GSK to develop a new medicine for this important unmet medical need.

Dr Scott WebsterReader, BHF Centre for Cardiovascular Science at the University of Edinburgh


The study is published in the journal Nature Medicine. The team and the research was initially funded by the Health Foundation, Academy of Medical Sciences, Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust, before pursuing a drug discovery programme with GSK.