April 2019 | VOL. 18, NO. 04| www.McGowan.pitt.edu
McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Joseph Glorioso III, PhD, Co-founder, CODA Biotherapeutics, and Professor and Emeritus Chair, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, is working on a gene therapy approach for treating chronic pain. CODA is developing engineered neurotransmitter receptors that are activated exclusively by orally bioavailable drugs to control the activity of hyperexcitable neurons responsible for chronic neuropathic pain. The gene encoding the receptor is delivered to dysfunctional neurons by proprietary viral vectors that are optimized for robust and targeted gene transfer. Standard neurosurgical procedures are used to administer these viral vectors directly to the neurons to be controlled. Once expressed, the engineered receptor can be activated by the drug to modulate neuronal activity. This enables the selective, tunable and reversible regulation of the receptor – and hence cellular activity – based on the dosing regimen of the drug. CODA is engineering receptors to have exquisite sensitivity for the pharmacological activator, which should dramatically limit off-target side effects that plague many pharmaceutical treatments.