Development of a First-to-Market Disease-Modifying Therapy for Patients with COPD - The Third Leading Cause of Death in the US
2014 Harrington Scholar-Innovator
As a former Alpine skier for the national team in her native Romania, Irina Petrache, MD, Dr. Calvin H. English Professor of Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine, has an affinity for speed. Now as a Harrington Scholar-Innovator developing a treatment for emphysema, speed is still her objective.
Dr. Petrache's specialty is investigating the underlying mechanism that damages the small blood vessels in smokers' lungs. “When smokers get chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD], there are limited treatment options available,” she explains. “It is a prevalent disease that becomes devastating when severe.”
Smoking is the number one cause of COPD, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Dr. Petrache, a pulmonary medicine specialist, practices at the Indianapolis, Ind. Richard Roudebush VA Medical Center, where she sees “far too many” cases of COPD. “Stopping smoking remains the most effective intervention, but sadly, many affected people continue to suffer from COPD, even if they stop smoking,” she says.
Dr. Petrache believes that she and her team are getting close to expanding the treatment choices for these patients. She and her collaborator, Indiana University researcher Matthias Clauss, PhD, have identified a protein in the body that causes inflammation and death of the cells that line the inside of blood vessels – two events that occur in COPD. They have patented this protein – EMAP II – as a target in emphysema and had several grants, including from the National Institutes of Health, to help move it closer to human testing. With assistance from the Harrington Discovery Institute's industry experts, Dr. Petrache believes that a drug to treat COPD based on EMAP II may be tested in less than a decade.
Dr. Petrache's connection with the Harrington Discovery Institute has brought her career full circle. She still recalls with pleasure her residency at former St. Luke's Hospital, affiliated with Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. “I spent four beautiful years of my life in Cleveland. The training and support I received from the Department of Medicine faculty at Saint Luke's were critical for my career,” she says.
After completing her training, she was on the faculty at The Johns Hopkins University for six years where she began studying cellular damage and potential treatment targets in COPD. Now as a physician-scientist at Indiana University, Dr. Petrache strives to mentor young physicians as she was mentored early in her career.
She appreciates being surrounded by young people eager to learn, ranging from high school students to junior faculty. “It is a two-way street as I pass on my experience and knowledge, I also learn and get a lot of energy from my mentees.” She adds, “I cherish this opportunity.”
Dr. Petrache refers to the medical students, residents and junior faculty members whom she mentors as her Plan B. “If my contributions are not sufficient,” she explains, “the people I am training may be smarter and make that high impact on patient care that I am striving to make.”
“Using the resources of the Harrington Discovery Institute, we want to move this discovery faster to the bedside as a diagnostic and therapeutic tool.”