A New Zealand pharmaceutical company is in advanced trials for a drug they hope will assist in the recovery from concussion.
Neuren Pharmaceuticals has developed NNZ-2566 and has been working with the United States Army in trialling the drug.
"Since 2004 we've been working with the US Army with one of our compounds on the treatment of traumatic brain injuries (TBI)," Neuren chief executive Larry Glass said from his US base.
"We're actually in the middle of a phase two clinical trial with TBI focusing on moderate and severe injuries."
NNZ-2566 was developed at Auckland University to mimic the naturally occurring immunoglobulin transcription factor 1, which is activated in a brain injury and is thought to have a beneficial effect in reducing secondary brain injuries.
"The medicinal chemistry department at Auckland University modified the naturally occurring version of that to produce a molecule that can be synthesised readily and is orally available," Glass said.
The US Army had become increasingly concerned with the incidences of mild brain trauma in the theatre of war and training. It is a concern mirrored by US Congress over the effect mild brain trauma is having on sportspeople.
Auckland neurologist Dr Rosamund Hill said while it is hard to imagine there can be one cure-all drug for concussion, in principle it could be possible to stymie the chemical disruptions to the brain.
"There are lots of chemical changes that people do see following brain injury, so I guess you could target some of those responses to the injury where you get the release of a variety of different chemicals," said Dr Hill.
Last week, the Herald ran a series about the spectre of concussion over contact sports, looking in particular at research that indicates multiple concussions can lead to long-term neurological disorders.
The articles highlighted the fact that there was still a culture of non-reporting concussions in rugby so players did not miss any time away from the game.
If NNZ-2566 proves successful in the treatment of soldiers, Glass said it was logical to assume it could have an equally profound affect on those who have suffered traumatic injuries in sport. The army has given Neuren a grant to trial the drug at phase two level on people with concussion. Those trials are slated to begin in November.
Neuren will be working alongside a group in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania which has developed a computerised cognitive testing system called Impact.
"We'll identify people who have had a concussion playing sport and some of them will get the drug and some of them won't and we'll see how effectively and how quickly they return to baseline in terms of their cognitive functions."
There are typically three phases of testing before the drug can be approved.
"We should have preliminary data in early 2014," Glass said. "If the data is good we'll do a phase three trial and it could be as early as 2016-17 that it would become available."
If the phase two data looks exceptionally promising, phase three can be accelerated.
Glass said if the results looked promising, they would talk to the New Zealand Rugby Union about testing the drug.
The concussion series can be accessed online at www.nzherald.co.nz