Scientists at the University of Liverpool and the Royal Liverpool University Hospital have been awarded £1.4 million––equivalent to approximately $2.2 million––to design a new type of drug for the treatment of chronic pain.
Chronic pain affects about 116 million Americans and more than eight million UK citizens, not to mention millions of others around the world. Unfortunately, many medications currently used to treat chronic pain are only effective for about 40% of patients. So there is no doubt that the need for a novel new class of drug for pain relief is huge.
The research team has been examining compounds which target the glycine receptor, one of the principal inhibitory neuronal receptors in the central nervous system and crucial in the sensation of chronic pain. Through medicinal chemistry, computational methods and experimental testing, the scientists have successfully identified novel compounds which could be used for the treatment of chronic pain without unwanted sedative effects.
Professor Martin Leuwer, from the University's Department of Molecular and Clinical Pharmacology in the School of Translational Medicine, said in a press release, "This is an exciting project that expands our drug discovery portfolio into a new therapeutic area with a huge unmet medical need. Our collaborative team of medicinal chemists, molecular modelers and neurobiologists have made significant advances in this area and this funding provides us with the opportunity to drive the project forward towards an entirely new class of drug for the treatment of chronic pain conditions.
"We're aiming to develop molecules that target the glycine receptor, into a drug that can be administered as a tablet. Our project concept has been shown to work but further improvements are required if we are to reach the goal of generating a drug which is safe, effective and orally viable. Our ultimate aim is to allow chronic pain patients to regain a dramatically improved quality of life."
He added, "In view of the huge numbers of patients worldwide whose lives are wrecked by chronic pain, the fact that current treatment options are clearly insufficient and the dramatic toll on economies caused by millions of lost working hours, our causal treatment option has the potential to have a tremendous beneficial impact on individuals and societies."
Funding Agency Has Impressive History
This project is funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), a government agency responsible for co-ordinating and funding medical research in the UK. The MRC has funded much notable research in its almost 100-year history. Work carried out under the auspices of the MRC has resulted in 29 Nobel Prizes to date and includes such medical breakthroughs as the development of penicillin, the discovery of the structure of DNA and the development of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
It's exciting to know that researchers are looking into new areas in their search for a more effective pain reliever. The medications that are currently prescribed most frequently for pain––NSAIDs, opioids, antidepressants and anticonvulsants––have numerous unpleasant side effects and simply don't relieve the pain for many people.
On top of that, the US government's current efforts to pressure doctors to stop prescribing opioids leaves many people living with chronic pain fearful that one day soon they may no longer be able to get the medications that have brought them at least some degree of relief.
Although at best it will still be a few years before this potential new medication could be widely available to patients, it's encouraging to hear how far it's already come and to know that funding has been made available to enable scientists to continue to develop it. I'm looking forward to hearing more about it down the road. And of course, when I do hear more, I'll be sure to share it with you.
“Scientist to design drug for chronic pain.” University of Liverpool press release. August 24, 2012.
Published On: August 28, 2012