Powerful new painkiller that lasts for days could help end opioid addiction

17 Aug 2017

Image: funnyangel/Shutterstock

A powerful new painkiller has been developed that not only works for longer with a small dose, but could also prevent opioid addiction.

The simple painkiller might be the most common form of medication taken by people across the globe, but the potential side effects of opioid addiction make it potentially harmful in the long term.

However, the discovery of a new painkiller could open up the door to a novel method of treatment and, more importantly, potentially non-addictive for humans.

Future Human

In a paper published to the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience, a team from The University of Texas at Austin revealed a new synthetic compound called UKH-1114, which acts on a previously unknown pain pathway.

In tests on mice, the new drug was shown to be as effective a pain reliever as another common one on the market (gabapentin) but works at a much lower dosage and for a longer duration.

“This opens the door to having a new treatment for neuropathic pain that is not an opioid, and that has huge implications,” said Stephen Martin, one of the lead researchers.

The drug works by binding to a receptor on cells throughout the central nervous system, known as the sigma-2 receptor, which, until now, had remained a mystery since its initial discovery 25 years ago.

Targets chronic pain

During testing on mice, UKH-1114 worked at one-sixth the dose of gabapentin and was effective for as long as a couple of days after taking it, compared with the usual duration of a few hours.

The findings suggest that the sigma-2 receptor may be a target for treating neuropathic pain – otherwise known as chronic pain – which occurs when nerves in the central nervous system are damaged.

Martin’s co-lead on the project, James Sahn, said the discovery has been very rewarding to work on.

“We started out just working on fundamental chemistry in the lab,” he said.

“But now we see the possibility that our discoveries could improve the quality of people’s lives. That is very satisfying.”

The next step for the new drug is further rigorous testing to make sure it would be safe for experimentation on humans. The ultimate goal is a commercial release, and the researchers have already filed a patent on it.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic