Burnet researchers have identified several promising drug candidates for the prevention of spontaneous preterm birth and the management of preterm labor.
Preterm birth is the leading cause of infant deaths, accounting for 35 per cent of infant deaths globally.
Preterm newborns who survive are at an increased risk of adverse health outcomes including chronic lung disease, and neurological, visual, and auditory disabilities.
Through the Accelerating Innovation for Mothers (AIM) project, researchers analysed the drug development pipeline of medicines for preterm birth and compared these to target product profiles (TPPs) for spontaneous preterm birth to identify the most promising drug candidates.
TPPs describe the minimum and optimal characteristics of a target product aimed at a particular disease.
The research, published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, identified 178 drug candidates, including ten high potential candidates that were already in clinical development.
Lead researcher Dr Annie McDougall said it was a promising step forward for these life-threatening pregnancy-specific conditions that had seen little progress in research and development.
“There are very few effective medicines for preventing preterm birth in women at risk,” Dr McDougall, a Research Officer with Burnet’s Global Women’s and Newborn’s Health Group, said.
“Most of the drugs in use at the moment have been repurposed from other conditions and may not be as effective as purpose-designed medications.
“These medicines are being used off-label in pregnant women, meaning they have not been specifically approved for this type of use.”
Dr McDougall said new medicines were urgently needed to reduce maternal and infant death and disability.
“Our research identified six high priority candidates for preventing spontaneous preterm birth and four high priority candidates for the management of preterm labour,” she said.
“We hope this research will inform global funding to ensure it is directed towards the most promising candidates for effective new therapies.”
Dr McDougall said low- and middle-income countries needed to be front of mind when considering drug targets and products to address pregnancy-specific conditions.
“Low- and middle-income countries disproportionately carry the burden of pregnancy-related conditions and maternal and infant deaths,” she said.
“When evaluating drug targets, we need to keep low-resource settings in mind as they have different barriers to implementing these medications than high-resource settings.”
The study is part of broader research being conducted through the AIM project, which is focused on improving maternal and infant health globally and reducing maternal and infant deaths.
The project aims to find innovative medicines, devices, and diagnostics for pregnancy-specific conditions such preeclampsia, preterm labour, and impaired foetal growth in low- and middle-income countries.