August 29, 2018

New drug could ease the burden of chronic kidney disease for children

Photo supplied by the University of Alberta.

Two million Canadians are living with various stages of kidney disease and the treatment options for children are limited. They live on restrictive diets and take handfuls of pills to regulate blood electrolyte levels, including phosphorus which causes heart disease, in the absence of kidney function. A new drug could change that.

WCHRI researcher and pediatrician Todd Alexander is investigating how a new drug called Tenapanor, which inhibits sodium absorption also helps prevent high blood phosphorus levels. “This drug could dramatically reduce the number of pills that my patients need to take on a daily basis,” Alexander said. “Patients could go from having to take over ten pills a day to just one.”

Children with chronic kidney disease (CKD) are unable to maintain a constant fluid and mineral balance—reducing their ability to go to the bathroom and excrete a chemical called phosphate. High levels of phosphorus in the blood causes cardiovascular disease contributing to premature death in children with kidney disease. The imbalance of phosphate in the blood also adversely affects calcium levels, which are vitally important for growing children.

The Alexander lab in collaboration with the makers of Tenapanor just published how the drug works, it prevents phosphate, such as is added as a food preservative, from moving between the cells of the intestine into the gut. Alexander is also hopeful that Edmonton will be a site for the last phase of the clinical trials before it can be used in children. The goal is to ensure the drug is safe so it can go to market and children and adults with CKD can use it.

Ultimately, this new treatment could increase the quality of life for those living with CKD, and simultaneously reduce the number of deaths due to late stage kidney disease. For Alexander, this means that many of his young patients will live longer, more “normal” lives. “The whole reason I got into research was for my patients, to make their lives better,” Alexander explained.

Todd Alexander research was recently published in Science Translational Medicine. His research has been funded by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute.