In terms of pure pain-relieving qualities alone, it is difficult to deny that the best drugs available are opioids such as morphine and oxycontin.
However, with the war on opioids raging on both sides of the Atlantic, the race has been on to find a viable, but non-addictive alternative.
Now, an international team of researchers has published a paper in the journal, Science Translational Medicine, in which they reveal that they have developed a new synthetic drug called AT-121. They believe this drug may be as effective as opioids in its pain-relieving qualities, but without the risk of addiction and other common side-effects.
To date, trials have been limited to rhesus monkeys in whom there has been no sign of addiction or side-effects.
The new drug has what are described as bi-functional qualities which means that it specifically targets two different opioid receptors in the brain, prohibiting their function. This in turn inhibits the sensation of pain.
The next stage is a thorough assessment of the drug’s safety, including the potential for side effects outside of the ones examined in this study. Subject to that, human trials could commence.
The need for speed
Despite the drug’s relatively early stage of development, the research team do not wish to lose their momentum. Team member, Dr Nurulain Zaveri, said “We want to move as fast as possible, because our results are exciting.”
And of course, there would be a huge financial incentive in getting this drug to market. The first viable opioid substitute has the potential to generate billions of dollars in sales revenue.
This research has certainly demonstrated that AT-121 has potential, with experts outside of the study also expressing considerable optimism. William Schmidt, a pharmaceutical consultant from North Star Consulting in California, said “They’ve got something here that’s really important. I think the chances of a compound with these properties moving forward are high, and simultaneously pretty exciting.”