RespireRx has sought to capitalize upon this opportunity by emphasizing its development of dronabinol for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is a sleep-related breathing disorder that afflicts an estimated 29 million people in the United States according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), and an additional 26 million in Germany and 8 million in the United Kingdom, as presented at the European Respiratory Society’s annual Congress in Paris, France in September 2018. OSA involves a decrease or complete halt in airflow despite an ongoing effort to breathe during sleep. When the muscles relax during sleep, soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses and obstructs the upper airway. OSA remains significantly under-recognized, as only 20% of cases in the United States according to the AASM and 20% of cases globally have been properly diagnosed. About 24 percent of adult men and 9 percent of adult women have the breathing symptoms of OSA with or without daytime sleepiness. OSA significantly impacts the lives of sufferers who do not get enough sleep; their quality of sleep is deteriorated such that daily function is compromised and limited. OSA is associated with decreased quality of life, significant functional impairment, and increased risk of road traffic accidents, especially in professions like transportation and shipping.
Research has established links between OSA and several important co-morbidities, including hypertension, type II diabetes, obesity, stroke, congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiac arrhythmias, and even early mortality. The consequences of undiagnosed and untreated OSA are medically serious and economically costly. According to the AASM, the estimated economic burden of OSA in the United States is approximately $162 billion annually. We believe that a new drug therapy that is effective in reducing the medical and economic burden of OSA would have significant advantages for optimal pricing in this costly disease indication.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (“CPAP”) is the most common treatment for OSA. CPAP devices work by blowing pressurized air into the nose (or mouth and nose), which keeps the pharyngeal airway open. CPAP is not curative, and patients must use the mask whenever they sleep. Reduction of the apnea/hypopnea index (“AHI”) is the standard objective measure of therapeutic response in OSA. Apnea is the cessation of breathing for 10 seconds or more and hypopnea is a reduction in breathing. AHI is the sum of apnea and hypopnea events per hour. In the sleep laboratory, CPAP is highly effective at reducing AHI. However, the device is cumbersome and difficult for many patients to tolerate. Most studies describe that 25-50% of patients refuse to initiate or completely discontinue CPAP use within the first several months and that most patients who continue to use the device do so only intermittently, substantially reducing or eliminating any benefit.
Oral devices may be an option for patients who cannot tolerate CPAP. Several dental devices are available including the Mandibular Advancement Device (“MAD”) and the Tongue Retaining Device (“TRD”). The MAD is the most widely used dental device for sleep apnea and is similar in appearance to a sports mouth guard. It forces the lower jaw forward and down slightly which keeps the airway more open. The TRD is a splint that holds the tongue in place to keep the airway as open as possible. Like CPAP, oral devices are not curative for patients with OSA. The cost of these devices tends to be high and side effects associated with them include nighttime pain, dry lips, tooth discomfort, and excessive salivation.
Patients with clinically significant OSA who cannot be treated adequately with CPAP or oral devices can elect to undergo surgery. The most common surgery is uvulopalatopharyngoplasty which involves the removal of excess tissue in the throat to make the airway wider. Other possible surgeries include tracheostomies, rebuilding of the lower jaw, and nose surgery. Patients who undergo surgery for the treatment of OSA risk complications, including infection, changes in voice frequency, and impaired sense of smell. Surgery is often unsuccessful and, at present, no method exists to reliably predict therapeutic outcome from these forms of OSA surgery.
Recently, another surgical option has become available based on upper airway stimulation. It is a combination of an implantable nerve stimulator and an external remote controlled by the patient. The hypoglossal nerve is a motor nerve that controls the tongue. The implanted device stimulates the nerve with every attempted breath, regardless of whether such stimulation is needed for that breath, to increase muscle tone to prevent the tongue and other soft tissues from collapsing. The surgically implanted device is turned on at night and off in the morning by the patient with the remote.