2,4 Dinitrophenol as Medicine


In the sanctity of pure drug discovery, objective reasoning can become clouded when pursuing ideas that appear unorthodox, but are spot on physiologically. To put this into historical perspective, it was an unorthodox idea in the 1950’s to suggest that warfarin, a rat poison, could be repositioned into a breakthrough drug in humans to protect against strokes as a blood thinner. Yet it was approved in 1954 as Coumadin® and has been prescribed to billions of patients as a standard of care. Similarly, no one can forget the horrific effects of thalidomide, prescribed or available without a prescription, as both a sleeping pill and “morning sickness” anti-nausea medication targeting pregnant women in the 1950’s. The “thalidomide babies” became the case-in-point for the need of strict guidelines by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) or full multi-species teratogenicity testing before drug approval. More recently it was found that thalidomide is useful in graft versus host disease, leprosy and resistant tuberculosis treatment, and as an anti-angiogenesis agent as a breakthrough drug for multiple myeloma (except for pregnant female patients). Decades of diabetes drug discovery research has historically focused on every possible angle, except, the energy-out side of the equation, namely, raising mitochondrial energy expenditure with chemical uncouplers. The idea of “social responsibility” allowed energy-in agents to be explored and the portfolio is robust with medicines of insulin sensitizers, insulin analogues, secretagogues, SGLT2 inhibitors, etc., but not energy-out medicines. The primary reason? It appeared unorthodox, to return to exploring a drug platform used in the 1930s in over 100,000 obese patients used for weight loss. This is over 80-years ago and prior to Dr Peter Mitchell explaining the mechanism of how mitochondrial uncouplers, like 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP) even worked by three decades later in 1961. Although there is a clear application for metabolic disease, it was not until recently that this platform was explored for its merit at very low, weight-neutral doses, for treating insidious human illnesses and completely unrelated to weight reduction. It is known that mitochondrial uncouplers specifically target the entire organelle’s physiology non-genomically. It has been known for years that many neuromuscular and neurodegenerative diseases are associated with overt production of reactive oxygen species (ROSs), a rise in isoprostanes (biomarker of mitochondrial ROSs in urine or blood) and poor calcium (Ca2+) handing. It has also been known that mitochondrial uncouplers lower ROS production and Ca2+ overload. There is evidence that elevation of isoprostanes precedes disease onset, in Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).

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