Increased Development of Non-Opioid Pain Treatments is Expected to Continue


With increased worries over the addictive nature of opioid-based pain treatments, more and more companies are focusing on the development of effective treatments without the addictive nature.

With a public backlash and multiple lawsuits filed against companies that manufacture and market opioid treatments, such as Purdue Pharmaceuticals, there is a greater focus and public want of different options, the market for non-opioid treatments is expected to more than double over the next five years to $22 billion. Earlier this year BCC Research pointed to a number of treatment options that could potentially take the place of opioids, including medical cannabis treatments; capsaicin-derived treatments; menthol-containing treatments; omega-3 fatty acid-containing treatments; and botulinum toxins.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 116 Americans die daily from opioid overdoses. In 2016 there were an estimated 64,000 drug-related deaths in the United States, with the highest increase related to opioid drugs.

Headway is being made as companies look to develop new pain therapies. Pennsylvania-based Virpax Pharmaceuticals licensed MedPharm’s MedSpray ‘Patch-in-a-Can’ Technology for non-opioid pain management. The product, called DSF100 (NSAID spray film 1.3%), an investigational spray film designed to deliver an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) transdermally via a metered-dose spray. When sprayed on the skin, the product forms a clear patch. The medicine is then absorbed through the skin or mucosal membrane to target the pain.

Anthony Mack, chief executive officer of Virpax, said the “rising importance of alternatives to opioid medications for pain management” has prompted the company to explore the development of topical pain treatments. Mack said the Patch-in-a-Can’ technology offers a promising delivery system that the company looks to explore in clinical trials.

The need for non-opioid-based treatments has become so great that earlier this year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched an “innovation challenge” to spur on the development of medical devices that can combat the crisis and help prevent and treat opioid use disorder – a disorder that is often caused by the abuse of opioid-based pain treatments.

Other companies are also forging ahead with their own research efforts. In February Cambridge, Mass.-based Tremeau Pharmaceuticals launched with $5.2 million to develop non-opioid pain treatments for rare diseases, including hemophilic arthropathy (HA), a degenerative joint disease occurring in patients with hemophilia. Potent opioids are typically used to treat HA-associated pain. There are currently no specific medications approved in the United States for treatment of HA. Tremeau is developing TRM-201 (rofecoxib), a highly potent cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) selective NSAID to treat HA. Rofecoxib is a non-narcotic analgesic, unlike opioids, and has no effect on bleeding time relative to placebo, the company said. Tremeau pointed out that traditional NSAIDs are not typically used in this patient population due to their effects on platelet aggregation and risk of gastrointestinal ulcers.

Also in February Connecticut-based Biowave secured a deal to supply all branches of the U.S. military with FDA-cleared high-frequency neurostimulation technology that delivers soothing therapeutic signals through the skin to block pain signals at the source. Biowave’s non-opioid Smarter Pain Blocking Technology has been adopted for use by 32 veteran’s hospitals across the country.

Then in March Q Biomed Inc. sought FDA approval for a new manufacturing facility for its licensed non-opiod pain treatment, Strontium Chloride Sr89 Injection USP (Strontium-89). Q Biomed’s Strontium-89 is a non-opioid injectable radiopharmaceutical designed to relieve cancer bone pain in patients with painful skeletal metastases.

In April, Seattle-based Kineta Chronic Pain struck a deal with Genentech to develop Kineta's α9/α10 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) antagonists for the treatment of chronic pain. The α9/α10 nAChR is a novel target for the treatment of chronic neuropathic pain.

While not a treatment for pain, in May the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Lucemyra, the first approved non-opioid treatment to manage withdrawal symptoms for opioid addiction. Lucemyra, an oral, selective alpha 2-adrenergic receptor agonist that reduces the release of norepinephrine. Symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal include anxiety, agitation, sleep problems, muscle aches, runny nose, sweating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and a craving for the drug.

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