A collaboration between Brain Canada, McGill University, Consortium Québécois sur la Découverte du Médicament (CQDM), the Quebec government, and the private industry in Canada, has advanced the development of a new drug for insomnia and neuropathic pain.

Brain Canada supports and advances brain research in Canada. CQDM is a nonprofit biopharmaceutical research consortium that supports and facilitates multi-party collaborative research and development.

The partnership was enabled by funding totalling C$1.6m ($1.17m) for the research. This includes a C$658,422 grant from the Quebec government (MEIE), a C$453,125 grant from Brain Canada, and a combined grant from Delmar Chemicals (now Minakem Montréal) and a public institution (CIHR).

It also received backing from the Canada Brain Research Fund (CBRF), an agreement between Health Canada and the Brain Canada Foundation.

The drug discovery project builds on a scientific breakthrough made at the McGill University and the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) in 2007.

Researchers at that time found a compound that unexpectedly affected a melatonin receptor in the brain.

According to Gabriella Gobbi, a scientist at the RI-MUHC, the compound induced sleep and enhanced restorative sleep, specifically non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, essential for maintaining overall health.

Several years after this initial discovery, researchers discovered that lower doses of the same compound alleviated neuropathic pain, a condition with very few effective therapies.

Gobbi said: “The identification of novel analgesics is of keen interest in medicine, and we started to realise that the melatonin MT2 compound we had been testing, might have great potential as a medicine to alleviate pain and insomnia.”

CQDM enables collaboration among universities, industry, and government to expedite the conversion of discoveries into vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.

The consortium was developing a viable prodrug for toxicology testing, as the original compound’s lipophilic nature made it insoluble.

Robert Zamboni, adjunct professor of pharmacology, biochemistry, and chemistry, and his team created a new orally ingestible drug derived from the parent molecule, designed to metabolise effectively in the body.

Delmar Chemicals assisted McGill researchers in synthesising the drug on a large scale and resolving biochemical challenges.

Industry collaborators Delmar Chemicals and Evotec helped in completing the synthesis of the drug and conducting pre-investigational new drug (IND) toxicology studies on this reengineered molecule.

Delmar Chemicals’ GMP facilities and research and development centre are supporting the project in further stages until the final validation and approvals by health authorities.