An oral pharmacologic treatment that keeps airways open during sleep would be a game-changer. Here are updates on four companies with drug candidates in development.

For decades, scientists have been searching for a drug therapy for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). While some drugs may be prescribed off-label in the hope they will keep airways open for OSA patients, and others are prescribed to address residual daytime sleepiness for patients who are on an airway therapy such as CPAP, no oral pharmacologic treatment to maintain open airways for people with obstructive sleep apnea has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—yet.

But quite a few promising drug candidates are currently in phase 2 trials and their developers are actively planning for phase 3. Several candidates use forms of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a molecule found in marijuana that has shown promise as a potential obstructive sleep apnea therapy. (Indeed, in 2017, the Minnesota Department of Health approved medical cannabis for the treatment of sleep apnea. But most sleep medicine experts see this approval as premature.) 

An oral pharmacologic treatment would represent a shift in the perception of sleep apnea therapy, likely resolving adherence obstacles associated with medical device-based treatments for many patients. It could also lead to an increased willingness among people with OSA symptoms to undergo sleep testing. Sleep specialists too would also welcome another treatment option—more therapies mean more opportunities to find therapy most compatible with every patient.

Though science hasn’t found a drug therapy for obstructive sleep apnea yet, research and development teams are getting close. How close? This free e-book details the status of four of the most promising drug candidates for OSA.