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New drug could protect the heart from damage following heart attack

Press release issued: 21 November 2014

The deadliest form of heart attack is frequent with around 250,000 in the USA and about 60,000 in the UK per year. A collaborative team of researchers have been awarded £1 million to accelerate the development of a new drug able to protect the heart from these attacks in the latest round of Biomedical Catalyst funding announced yesterday [Thursday 20 November] by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Innovate UK.

The research team, led by Dr Mike Murphy from the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit, MRC Centre Cambridge, together with Professor Raimondo Ascione from the University of Bristol and Dr Thomas Krieg from the University of Cambridge, will build on previous MRC funding to develop an experimental compound into a drug that could protect the heart from damage following the deadliest form of heart attack.

Tests in mice have shown that the compound, called MitoSNO, protects heart tissue from reperfusion injury, which occurs when the blood supply to an organ is interrupted, for example by a blood clot. If the blood supply is restored the tissue can recover, but the sudden return of oxygen-rich blood leads to extensive tissue damage that contribute significantly to the acute mortality and worsens the long-term prognosis for the patient.

All of the 100,000 people a year in the UK who suffer a heart attack will experience a degree of reperfusion injury, which is caused by the production of harmful molecules, called free radicals, by the heart cells. MitoSNO blocks the production of these free radicals, therefore protecting the tissue from damage.

Early tests led by Murphy have shown that the compound is effective in mice.  The researchers will now fine-tune production of a drug that will be tested in pigs before moving onto early human trials.  The testing will be carried out at the University of Bristol’s new Translational Biomedical Research Centre co-funded by the University, MRC and BHF, which will open next spring.

Raimondo Ascione, Professor of Cardiac Surgery and Translational Research in the School of Clinical Sciences Bristol, said: "We are very pleased to be part of this major example of collaborative translational research program with Cambridge that has great potential to impact on patient benefit worldwide.

“This is a perfect start for the Bristol Translational Biomedical Research Centre, a unique facility of international relevance with a package of specifications aligned to clinical standards.

“The TBRC aims to fast track the translation of new biomedical discoveries into benefit for patients across the NHS and for companion animals, while unlocking the potential of UK scientists to engage in academic and educational partnerships with biomedical Industry."

The Biomedical Catalyst is a funding programme jointly operated by the MRC and Innovate UK (formerly the Technology Strategy Board) to provide responsive and effective support for the best translational life science opportunities arising in the UK.

Further information

About the MRC

The Medical Research Council has been at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Twenty-nine MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms.

About the British Heart Foundation (BHF)

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) is the nation’s heart charity, dedicated to saving lives through pioneering research, patient care, campaigning for change and by providing vital information. But we urgently need help. We rely on donations of time and money to continue our life-saving work. Because together we can beat heart disease. For more information visit


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