Sodium channels are large voltage-gated transmembrane proteins that play an important role in many physiological processes by regulating the entry and exit of charged ions. Because of this role as ion gatekeepers, they have proven to be valuable targets for therapeutic intervention, with companies addressing two main functions of the channels: generating and conducting electrical impulses along nerves and balancing fluids between cells and across cell membranes.

The former function has been used for sodium channel blocking anti-epileptics and local anesthetics, while the latter has been harnessed for drugs to treat hypertension.

A pair of deals announced this month are taking advantage of these two functions in additional disease areas: neuropathic pain and pulmonary disease.

Icagen Inc. and Pfizer Inc. have partnered to identify and develop compounds to treat pain and related disorders, while Parion Sciences Inc. and Gilead Sciences Inc. are developing agents for pulmonary diseases such as cystic fibrosis (CF) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).

Closing the gates on pain

Icagen is looking to treat chronic pain by modulating the sodium ion channels essential for neuronal signaling. The company believes its characterization of the entire ion channel genome has given it a window to early identification of efficacious compounds without unwanted side effects.