Pharmaceutical sciences professor awarded NIH grant for research study

Dr. Krisztian Toth, an associate professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Campbell University and an adjunct associate professor at Duke University, was awarded a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to develop “A Novel Functionally Selective Drug for the Treatment of Cocaine Abuse by Antagonism of Beta-Arrestin Signaling Arm of the Ghrelin Receptor.”

This work will take place in collaboration with Duke University.

As a postdoctoral fellow at Duke, Toth has been part of a pre-clinical drug development project that identified a novel molecule targeting the Ghrelin receptor that regulates the brain`s pleasure center also affected in drug addiction. This particular ligand exploits a unique molecular mechanism called functional selectivity.

“Functional selectivity enables us to selectively reduce addictive behavior while eliminating unwanted side effects of Ghrelin receptor therapy,” Toth said. The preliminary animal experiments showed promising results in preventing the development of addiction-like behavior.

Toth received his MD and his PhD in behavioral neuroscience from the University of Pecs (Hungary). His professional experiences include 15 years of research in the field of brain reward circuitry and graduate and post-graduate level teaching in various institutions. Toth received his postdoctoral training at Penn State University Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and at Duke University Medical Center.

NIH recently separated a budget for the development of “promising new therapeutics” to treat addiction. Toth and his co-investigators from Duke University, Lawrence S. Barak, associate research professor of Cell Biology and Marc G. Caron, James B. Duke professor of Cell Biology, applied to the NIH in response to the special announcement and were awarded the funds.

The experiments are taking place at Duke and include testing the new molecule in biochemical assays and animal models of cocaine/opioid addiction.

The $150,000 grant aims to characterize the ligand further through target validation, making it ready for first in human clinical testing. The grant is good for one year, with the possibility of extension. Toth, Barak, and Caron hope to make a final decision whether the molecule is suitable for human application at all.