from the December 2010 issue

New osteoporosis treatment

Researchers in Israel believe that in less than a decade, their discovery may lead to a new, more effective drug to prevent and treat osteoporosis.

Israeli scientists have discovered a group of substances in the body that play a key role in controlling bone density. Based on their discovery, they have initiated development of a drug for prevention and treatment of osteoporosis and other bone disorders. They believe that with luck, in about seven years a new drug could be on the market, allowing people to benefit from their discovery.

Osteoporosis is the most widespread degenerative disease in the Western world and is expressed in the loss of bone mass and the weakening of bone structure, contributing to frequent bone fractures, disability and even death. The loss of bone mass in osteoporosis is caused by internal destruction of the bone tissue. With age, the mass of bone tissue that is lost is greater than that which is created, which leads to the decrease in bone density. "The number of women affected by osteoporosis is three to four fold higher compared to men," notes Prof. Itai Bab of the Bone Laboratory at the Hebrew University (HU) of Jerusalem, who along with Prof. Raphael Mechoulam of the university's Institute of Drug Research heads the research group that is working on the project.

New drug may reverse loss of bone tissue
The findings to date of the team have just been published in the American journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Science). In addition to the two leading professors, the team includes post-doctoral fellow Reem Smoum and doctoral students Gary Millman, Orr Ofek, Alon Bajayo, Joseph Tam and Vardit Kram as well as associates from the United States.

"Our collaboration began with Dr. Michael Walker from Indiana University at Bloomington and when he passed away, his successor, Dr. Heather Bradshaw, continued the collaboration," Bab recounts.

Describing his own bones as decidedly "normal," Bab relates that he has "been involved with osteoporosis and the stimulation of bone density since the 1980s, when I came to realize the epidemiological and clinical significance of this disease [osteoporosis]."

The researchers are convinced that their findings can serve as the basis for new drugs that can both prevent bone loss and boost bone formation. In this way the drugs will hopefully reverse the loss of bone tissue in osteoporosis patients. Development of such a drug has begun in the laboratories of Mechoulam and Bab, and Yissum, HU's technology transfer company, has submitted a patent application based on their work and is seeking a commercial partner for further development.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report December 2010

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