BIO Calls for Innovation in Addressing the Opioid Crisis

white pills spilling out of orange bottle

As drugmakers continue to develop an understanding of what pain is to the human body, it helps drive the development of innovative manners to treat it that transcend addictive options such as opioids.

A new video on the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) website called “The Power of Innovation in Addressing the Opioid Crisis” takes a glimpse into what some companies are doing to develop potential pain treatments. The video opens with news clips documenting the opioid crisis that has wreaked havoc across the United States – a crisis that claims the lives of more than 120 people on average per day in the United States.

In the video, Jim Greenwood, BIO’s chief executive officer, said opioid addiction is not about whether or not people are “bad,” but are suffering in the throes of the disease of addiction. Greenwood noted that he has a family member who has been an addict for eight years.

“She doesn’t want to be an addict… she’s just a regular kid who got hooked, and it’s awful,” Greenwood said.

The BIO video was released at a time when many opioid drugmakers are under fire for aggressive marketing tactics that critics allege helped lead to the rising abuse problem in the U.S. There have been thousands of lawsuits filed against opioid drugmakers in courthouses across the country. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also recently unveiled new steps to address the opioid crisis going forward.

Greenwood said that the pharma and biotech industry has a proven track record of innovation and has the capability of stopping pain. He and others featured in the video talked about the need for developing treatments for pain that are not addictive. Maxine Gowen, the former CEO of Pennsylvania-based Trevena, Inc., said the industry has to identify new medicines for treating pain, as well as new medications for treating those who have become addicted to pain killers.

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In the video, the pharma leaders did not specifically point to any innovative treatments in development by the various featured companies. The overall theme of the video was a call to action for the need for innovative therapy options for chronic pain treatments.

Richard Pops, chairman and chief executive officer of Alkermes, said the researchers in his company are fascinated with the definition of pain. For those who work with pain, Pops said it quickly becomes evident that opioid addiction is not something that is a “disease of choice.” He said his team, as well as teams in other companies, are experts in innovation, which is what will be necessary to accomplish the goals of treating pain in a safer manner.

“Innovation in new pain products, innovation in new addiction products, but also innovation in the system itself,” Pops said.

Developing the kind of non-addictive treatments for pain that the industry leaders spoke about though takes time and money – as well as a great deal of hope. But, it is something that can be accomplished. Gowen noted that when she began in the industry, HIV and AIDS was a veritable death sentence. However, over the years, innovation has allowed it to become treated more as a chronic disease.

While the companies can step up their innovations in the lab, Greenwood and the other executives pointed out that other players in healthcare will also have to be involved. Greenwood said insurers will “have to step up to the plate, too.” He said if products are going to save people, it will be in the interest of the insurance industry to support it by covering it in drug plans.

Randall Stevens, chief medical officer of Centrexion, also said that payers will have to look at innovation when it comes to covering newer and safer pain treatments. Gowen added that in the end, these types of innovative therapies actually cut the costs of healthcare.

“We got to get this job done because people are suffering too much,” Greenwood said.

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