Physicians Hall Front

MCW Investigators Awarded Two Falk Catalyst Grants to Pursue Translational Research

Milwaukee, March 9, 2022 – Two investigative teams from the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) have been awarded the 2021 Falk Medical Trust Catalyst Award. The advanced research projects – one under Nikki Johnston, PhD and another under Hongwei Yu, MD and Quinn Hogan, MD – have each been awarded a grant of up to $300,000 to support the planning and development of projects, teams, tools, techniques, and management infrastructure necessary to lay the foundation for a subsequent Transformational Award, a $1 million grant.

The highly competitive grant seeks to fund high-risk, high-reward translational research in therapeutics for disease. Only a select list of institutions, including Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, Northwestern University and Yale, were invited to submit up to two nominations for the award. MCW nominated Dr. Johnston’s project, “Aerosolized HIV Inhibitors for the Treatment of Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR),” and Drs. Yu and Hogan’s project, “A Novel Analgesic Approach for Chronic Pain: Small Peptide Inhibition of Nav1.7 in Anatomically Targeted Sensory Neurons.”

“MCW has actively pursued the Falk awards for many years. We experienced success with the exceptional research in kidney disease therapeutics under Dr. John Imig, who received a Falk Catalyst Award for his work in 2015, and went on to receive one of four Transformational Awards in 2017,” said Kevin Boggs, MBA, PhD, and director of the Office of Technology Development. “We are humbled by the recognition that Drs. Johnston, Yu, and Hogan have brought to the MCW Research Mission and we hope to replicate Dr. Imig’s success with our 2021 Catalyst awardees.”

Dr. Johnston, associate professor and director of airway, digestive, and voice research in Otolaryngology, is leading a multi-disciplinary drug discovery program in her research laboratory to develop a therapeutic for laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) disease, which, if left untreated, can promote the development of laryngeal cancer. Approximately 20% of the United States population suffer from LPR, and there is no effective medical therapy.

Dr. Johnston is leading a 12-week, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded, phase III clinical trial to assess the efficacy of FDA-approved therapies for HIV/AIDS for the treatment of LPR. The Falk Catalyst Award will allow her team to test the hypothesis that local inhalation administration of a water-soluble formulation of drugs fosamprenavir and darunavir will be effective at a lower dose relative to oral administration.

Drs. Yu and Hogan, both professors of anesthesiology, are using gene and molecular therapy in their project to target the peripheral nervous system and treat chronic pain without the risk of addiction. Success will justify further development of this novel approach as a safe and feasible path to opioid-free, addiction-free chronic pain treatment.

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