Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is currently treated with mechanical devices - air pressure from CPAP, jaw movement with oral appliance therapy, or surgical therapy. No medications have been shown to be particularly helpful in treating OSA. This article discusses NIH funding given to a team of researchers at the University of Chicago.
The article describes the research already going on at the University that focuses on a small group of cells in the carotid artery called the carotid bodies. When levels of oxygen in the blood drop, these carotid bodies send signals to the brainstem to increase breathing, with the goal of increasing oxygen levels in the blood. The article describes that in sleep apnea, the carotid bodies may not react appropriately, and thus stop sending signals to the brain. The University of Chicago team has developed a compound that may help the carotid bodies to keep working properly during sleep apnea, and thus aid in their regulation of breathing - at least in rodents.
However, it's not clear what type of sleep apnea the researchers are working on. It sounds like central sleep apnea (CSA), which is a completely different, and less common form of sleep apnea, than OSA. In most cases of OSA, the drive to breathe is intact, but airflow is significantly reduced due to a blockage in the upper airway. In addition, not every patient with OSA has oxygen level reductions, even though airflow through the upper airway is reduced. But if a person with OSA has regular blood oxygen level reductions, perhaps a medication that helps the carotid bodies stimulate breathing may be effective, if that stimulation involves increasing the diameter of the upper airway.