New Opioid Is Safe, Non-Addictive in Primates

Patient Expert
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The concerns about the safety of opioids and their potential for addiction mean that people who live with pain are facing increasing restrictions on their ability to access these medications. Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidelines recommending that doctors avoid prescribing opioids for chronic pain. Drug abuse is a legitimate problem. But these kinds of restrictions end up meaning individuals with chronic pain are increasingly being left untreated.

To solve that problem, the development of a new opioid offers hope for the future of effective treatment of chronic pain.

Effective pain control with no side effects

Researchers from the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center published their findings on a new opioid compound called BU08028 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The findings show that the compound does not cause addiction or respiratory depression in primates.

“Based on our research, this compound has almost zero abuse potential and provides safe and effective pain relief,” says lead researcher Mei-Chuan Ko, a professor of physiology and pharmacology.

Pain experiments were conducted that involved dipping the tails of monkeys into hot water. When administered just one dose of BU08028, the monkeys experienced more than 24 hours of pain relief. Additional experiments showed that when training monkeys to self-administer the medication, they did not show any physical dependence or addictive behavior. Additionally, they had no withdrawal symptoms.

BU08028 targets two kinds of peptide receptors in the body. Peptides are molecules that exist in every cell of our bodies. They have a variety of essential functions, including carrying information through the blood from one tissue to another. Peptide receptors are a sort of “receiving stations” of this information.

This new opioid compound targets one peptide receptor called mu opioid peptide, which is also targeted by other types of opioids. However, it is also directed at nociceptin receptors. These regulate pain and contribute to a number of other brain functions, such as anxiety and memory. However, they usually don’t respond to opioid drugs. The researchers think that this particular compound works so well without side effects because it targets both these receptors.

The next stage in examining how and why BU08028 works will be to conduct animal studies to test how it performs for chronic pain.

Another new drug discovered

Another team of researchers that include Nobel Prize-winning Chemist Professor Brian Kobilka of Stanford University write in the journal Nature about their discovery of a drug they call PZM21. They believe this could lead to the development of painkiller that is safer than current opioids.

Opioids are derived from morphine, which acts on two receptors in the brain. One controls pain, but the other is involved in the breathing process. When opioids acts on that receptor, it can lead to suppression of breathing, which can cause death in overdoses. When PZM21 was tested in mice, it appeared to act only on the first receptor.

Opiates are also known for causing constipation, but PZM21 seems to not have the side effect. This could be highly beneficial, as opioid-induced constipation often limits effective pain control.

My take

The studies were conducted on animals and are therefore still in the preclinical stages. There is a long road ahead before they may lead to the development of a safer way to treat high levels of pain. However, they do bring hope for the future.

See More Helpful Articles:

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Review Shows Opioids to Relieve Chronic Pain with Little Addiction Risk

Opioids: Addiction vs. Dependence

Opioid Treatment for Cancer Versus Noncancer Pain: Is There Really a Difference?


Lene writes the award-winning blog The Seated View. She’s the author of Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain.