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UNE awarded 5 year, $4.5 million NIH grant to develop opioid drugs with diminished side effects

August 18, 2015

Ed Bilsky
Ed Bilsky
Karen Houseknecht
Karen Houseknecht

The University of New England and Southern Research of Birmingham, Alabama won a $4.5 million, five-year grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) of the National Institutes of Health to develop opioid drugs for the treatment of chronic pain. These candidate compounds are being developed to have fewer adverse effects than currently marketed opioid pain-relief medications.

Chronic pain affects an estimated 100 million Americans. The economic burden of chronic pain in the U.S. was recently estimated at approximately $600 billion per year ­­– greater than the combined annual cost of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

Opioids, which include hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, codeine and related drugs are currently the most useful treatments available for moderate to severe acute and chronic pain, but their therapeutic use is limited due to their tendency to produce adverse side effects. With longer-term use, abuse is also a factor including physical dependence, and addiction.

The research will be performed by a team of scientists at the University of New England including Edward Bilsky, Ph.D., UNE vice-president for Research and Scholarship, Karen Houseknecht, Ph.D., UNE professor of Pharmacology, and John Streicher, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical sciences. Subramaniam Ananthan, Ph.D., principal research scientist in drug discovery at Southern Research will lead the research.

“The over-prescribing and over-use of traditional opioid analgesics has contributed to diversion of these medications and their misuse and abuse,” said Bilsky. “From our previous research, we have a better understanding of the neurobiology of opioid systems, pain and addiction, and have made great strides toward developing drugs that provide pain relief while having greatly reduced side effects. This new grant award from the National Institutes of Health is timely and critical for advancing the project towards the goal of having a clinical drug candidate for treatment of acute and chronic pain.”

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