Scientists retool weight-loss drug for lifesaving treatments

A weight-loss drug could be repurposed to prevent organ failure in patients in intensive care.

Professor John Windsor

Orlistat, marketed in New Zealand as Xenical, can be retooled to treat conditions such as severe acute pancreatitis, severe infection and haemorrhagic shock, according to the study from the University of Auckland and Monash University published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutics.

“These diseases, when life threatening, are characterised by overwhelming inflammation and the failure of vital organs,” said Professor John Windsor, a co-author of the study and the director of the University of Auckland’s Surgical and Translational Research (STaR) Centre.

``And although our intensive care doctors are highly skilled at supporting these organs, there is still no effective drug treatment to prevent or reduce the severity of organ failure.”

Orlistat blocks dietary fat absorption from the intestine to help people lose weight. Researchers at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences devised the novel formulation, which enhances the uptake of the drug into lymph fluid and blood.

The level of the enzyme pancreatic lipase is often very high in lymph fluid draining the intestine during a life-threatening disease. By blocking lipase, it is possible to decrease the production of highly toxic free fatty acids which are known to contribute to the failure of vital organs.

The scientists have filed a provisional patent for the new formulation and are seeking commercial partners.

``We have demonstrated that the formulation is useful in reducing vital organ failure in acute pancreatitis models,” said lead researcher Dr Natalie Trevaskis, of MIPS. ``Future work will demonstrate efficacy in other major diseases and hopefully progress to clinical trials.”

The study’s authors include Christopher Porter from MIPS in Melbourne and Anthony Phillips and Jiwon Hong from the STaR Centre in Auckland.

The work was funded by the New Zealand Health Research Council.

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