UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


UCL histamine research leads to revolutionary new drug for treating narcolepsy

UCL research into histamine H3-receptors has led to the development of a new drug that’s improving the lives of people with narcolepsy.

UCL histamine research

Narcolepsy is a disabling, long-term neurological disease that affects 1 in 2,000 individuals (approximately 30,000 people in the UK and 165,000 people in the US). The condition often has a debilitating impact on the quality of life of the affected individuals, with two-thirds of patients being unable to work. 

But, now thanks to UCL research, a new drug is helping to change that. Professor Robin Ganellin FRS, from UCL Chemistry, provided a new chemical approach to a drug for increasing histamine transmission in the brain that enhances alertness and wakefulness in c narcolepsy patients.

This discovery has led to the development and commercialisation of a medication called pitolisant (Wakix™), by two companies: Bioprojet in Europe and Harmony Biosciences in the USA.

Pitolisant, the first new therapy in over a decade, has changed the way narcolepsy is managed for thousands of patients around the globe.   

The drug has since been approved for use in the UK and US. As of 30 June 2020, over 1,750 unique health care providers have prescribed Wakix™ since it became available in November 2019, representing 2,700 unique patients.  

Thanks to the licensing agreement between Bioprojet and Harmony Biosciences, Harmony Biosciences raised $270 million in equity funding from 29 investors to fuel the company’s continued growth. Since its launch in November 2019, the drug has accounted for net sales of $57.8 million for Harmony Biosciences.

Read the full story on the UCL Research Impact website