WARF: P150330US02

Retinoic Acid: A New Treatment for Sleep Apnea and Hypopnea


Tracy Baker, Gordon Mitchell, Daryl Fields

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) is seeking commercial partners interested in developing a new approach for controlling and preventing sleep apnea that uses retinoic acid (RA).
OVERVIEWSleep apnea affects an estimated 18 million American adults annually. People with sleep apnea can develop conditions such as systemic and pulmonary hypertension, metabolic syndrome, insomnia, neuro-inflammation or cognitive impairment, shortening life and diminishing its quality.

Two main types of sleep apnea are central (lowered urge to breathe) and obstructive (blockage of respiratory passages). Hypopnea, a related condition, is characterized by slow or shallow breathing.

To date, there exists few pharmaceutical approaches to this problem; surgery and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) remain the most common interventions for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), with no standardized treatment for central sleep apnea/hypopnea (CSA) available. Lack of patient compliance with cumbersome CPAP equipment and lack of effective surgical options to increase respiratory drive have necessitated more targeted and comprehensive treatments of CSA and OSA.
THE INVENTIONUW–Madison researchers have developed a new method for treating sleep apnea and hypopnea with retinoic acid.

A patient can be given a retinoid or retinoic acid receptor agonist such as all-trans RA (ATRA), 13-cis RA (isotretinoin) or 9-cis RA (alitretinoin). These compounds target the mechanisms that cause sleep apnea in two ways. First, they increase the respiratory drive (urge to breathe). Additionally, they reduce the apneic threshold (the level of CO2 necessary for the induction of breath) to normal levels.
  • Prevention and treatment of central and obstructive apnea/hypopnea
  • Should increase treatment compliance among patients
  • Pharmaceutical rather than surgical or external intervention
  • Directly treats the primary mechanisms of apnea/hypopnea
STAGE OF DEVELOPMENTAnimal studies have shown a 50-75% increase in respiratory drive as well as a normalized apneic threshold. This technology is in the preclinical phase.
For More Information About the Inventors
Contact Information
For current licensing status, please contact Rafael Diaz at or 608-960-9847.
The WARF Advantage

WARF: A Leader in Technology Transfer Since 1925
Since its founding as a private, nonprofit affiliate of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, WARF has provided patent and licensing services to UW–Madison and worked with commercial partners to transform university research into products that benefit society. WARF intellectual property managers and licensing staff members are leaders in the field of university-based technology transfer. They are familiar with the intricacies of patenting, have worked with researchers in relevant disciplines, understand industries and markets, and have negotiated innovative licensing strategies to meet the individual needs of business clients.

The University of Wisconsin and WARF –
A Single Location to Accelerate Translational Development of New Drugs

UW–Madison has the integrative capabilities to complete many key components of the drug development cycle, from discovery through clinical trials. As one of the top research universities in the world, and one of the two best-funded universities for research in the country, UW–Madison offers state-of-the-art facilities unmatched by most public universities.

These include the Small Molecule Screening Facility at the UW Comprehensive Cancer Center; the Zeeh Pharmaceutical Experiment Station, which provides consulting and laboratory services for developing formulations and studying solubility, stability and more; the Waisman Clinical Biomanufacturing Facility; the Wisconsin Institute for Medical Research, which provides UW–Madison with a complete translational research facility; and the innovative, interdisciplinary Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, home to the private, nonprofit Morgridge Institute for Research and its public twin, WID, part of the university's graduate school. The highly qualified experts at these facilities are ready to work with you to create a library of candidates for drug development.