A drug designed to reduce scarring after surgery or injury has shown promising results in early human trials, UK researchers say.
Avotermin was tested in healthy volunteers with scars monitored over the period of a year.
The wounds injected with the treatment were less red, raised and visible than those treated with a dummy drug, The Lancet medical journal reported.
Further trials are now starting across Europe, the researchers said.
Early work on the drug was done at the University of Manchester before a spin-off biotechnology company – Renovo – was set up to develop it further.
People taking part in three trials were given identical 1cm full thickness skin incisions on both arms and were given an injection of avotermin in one and placebo in the other when the wounds were made and then 24 hours later.
Doctors assessing the subsequent appearance of the scars on a 100-point scale did not know which wound was treated with which drug.
The studies, which were done to test safety and find the best dose in more than 200 people, found the scars treated with avotermin looked more like normal skin than the scars treated with placebo.
It comes after decades of research identifying that the active ingredient in the drug – a signalling protein in the body called TGF?3 – had anti-scarring properties.
Study leader Professor Mark Ferguson, an expert in wound healing at the University of Manchester and co-founder and CEO of Renovo, said advanced clinical studies were underway.
“We’re recruiting 350 patients who are undergoing scar revision operations where the bad scar is cut out and we inject one end of the new scar with the drug and one end with placebo,” he said.
He argued that if proven to be successful, the treatment could be used in the early management of wounds from surgery and injury.
“What we know from our studies is you have to give the treatment when you close up the wound so if someone has had trauma it could be given within 48 hours of the injury,” he said.
He added that some people had a tendency to scar worse that others.
“If you look at people who scar badly, with this drug they had an acceptable scar rather than an ugly scar and with people who scar well you end up with a scar that is almost unnoticeable.”
Mr Brendan Eley, chief executive of The Healing Foundation, described TGF?3 as one of the “holy grails” of anti-scarring therapy.
“That the impact on scar formation is both structural and aesthetic is very promising,” he said.
“What impact these therapies could have on patients with complicated and potentially disfiguring wounds – that’s the exciting next step of this work which the clinical community will await with eager anticipation.”
Mr Rajiv Grover, a consultant plastic surgeon and secretary of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, agreed the results were promising but added that patients should not get their hopes up of the treatment being available any time soon.
“These are very controlled scars – the difficulty is the bad scars are not just a centimetre long with no tension in them.”
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