Apr. 25—VALDOSTA — When campuses halted research during the height of the pandemic, Dr. Thomas Manning and Jenu Thomas-Richardson continued their work at Valdosta State University — with exceptional results.
For 20 years, Manning and his team have been working on developing cancer drugs, many of which entered clinical trials with the federal government.
"Eight or nine years ago, we didn't switch, we kind of did two tracks and started doing antibiotics particularly focused on tuberculosis," Manning said. "TB is one of those diseases you don't hear much about, but worldwide, it's a really big deal. Two billion people have TB and is concentrated in countries like India and parts of Africa."
They were able to get a patent on one drug and, last year, began working on a way to put it directly into the lungs via an inhalation technique.
Then COVID-19, a viral infection in the lungs, hit.
In 2020, the VSU team worked about a month and published a paper in an international pharmaceutical journal, leading a doctor in Iran to pick it up and test it on his patients. He saw a drop in mortality from 14% to 2%.
When entering clinical trials, a drug must be proven to work on some level, so Manning shared the Iran information with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Unfortunately, due to political tension with Iran, the FDA said there was no way to verify it, he said.
The researchers powered through, and began targeting Brazil where one can collaborate testing with the government.
Thomas-Richardson has been going into business conferences to raise funding.
She and Manning have been featured in three publications and got more human data from a regional hospital in Mississippi where a doctor used their treatment for "compassionate use," as a last resort.
"From that, we are able to go into a later stage for our clinical trial. We have a collaborator with the Medical College of Georgia, who has agreed to host our clinical trials," Thomas-Richardson said. "We are just currently looking to get funding which is why I'm going to these business competitions to raise awareness and get investors interested in potentially helping us get our treatment from the base level to the finished entire product and commercializing it."
She's had to view the research from a business perspective.
While they've been fortunate in many aspects, this final leg of getting funding has been "challenging," Thomas-Richardson said.
Manning said a simple clinical trial with 50 patients could be a million dollars.
"There are people out there that are interested but they also want something in return. It's an investment thing," Manning said.
They both laughed, saying it would be great if people donated money.
"Right now, it's just basically grinding, getting stuff done," Manning said.
Thomas-Richardson added they are applying as an investigational new drug with the FDA to "get that ball rolling" and get it to a higher phase in clinical trial.