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ADVANCE Discourse: Lab

Dreaming of a Summer Without Poison Ivy

Published March 27, 2012 9:18 AM by Valerie Newitt

Here on the East Coast we've had the earliest spring in recent memory - cherry blossoms have bloomed more than a month early, and already the magnolia trees are dropping their colorful blooms across already-in-need-of-mowing lawns.

With showy flora a few jumps ahead this year, could poison ivy be far behind?

Hapten Sciences Inc. of Memphis, Tenn., has licensed a compound created by ElSohly Laboratories Inc. and pharmaceutical researchers at the University of Mississippi that, according to a Newswise news release, will "put the brakes on poison ivy rash," as well those produced by its kindred cousins - poison oak and poison sumac.

   Being one who has endured countless summer days with unsightly pus-filled bubbles on wretchedly itching skin, I say hallelujah! I once missed two weeks of fun when I was a kid, due to a poison ivy outbreak so severe that bubbling lesions between my legs kept me from walking. That led to a series of rather painful shots in my posterior in hopes of lessening my sensitivity. The painful shots proved useless however when I fell down a slippery creek bank and slid to the water's edge along a dense cushion of fully mature poison ivy leaves. That, in turn, resulted in the summer when I could not sit down. (You get the picture.)

Hapten's new compound, HPT-721, is aimed at preventing contact dermatitis secondary to poison ivy, oak and sumac. The molecule contains chemical derivatives of urushiol, the devilishly oily substance in the plants that causes the rash and the unforgiving itch.

"Our HPT-721 molecule provides a completely new solution to the problem of urushiol exposure," said Raymond J. Hage Jr., president and CEO of Hapten, via the Newswise release.

The compound is water-soluble and has demonstrated long-term stability in aqueous solution, so it will be developed as an intramuscular injection, like many flu shots. Next development steps include final formulation analysis, completion of manufacturing processes and toxicology studies.
Each year, nearly 50 million Americans develop that maddeningly itchy skin rash, resulting in more than seven million visits to health care providers. So here's hoping help is on the way. But don't throw away your calamine bottle just yet. Hapten plans to file an Investigational New Drug Application with the FDA and begin clinical trials sometime this year.  When it will be approved or available on the drugstore shelves is still anyone's guess.
posted by Valerie Newitt

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