US drug­maker hails new opi­oid painkiller

Nek­tar Ther­a­peu­tics claims treat­ment can help halt US ad­dic­tion cri­sis

Financial Times Middle East - - Companies - DAVID CROW — NEW YORK

A US biotech com­pany says it has dis­cov­ered a new opi­oid that can treat pain symp­toms with­out gen­er­at­ing the eu­phoric feel­ing that has fu­elled Amer­ica’s ad­dic­tion cri­sis.

Nek­tar Ther­a­peu­tics, based in San Fran­cisco, says the drug has a novel chem­i­cal struc­ture which means it crosses the blood-brain bar­rier more slowly than opi­oids such as Pur­due Pharma’s Oxy-Con­tin, also known as “hill­billy heroin” for its highly ad­dic­tive prop­er­ties.

Drug­mak­ers are rac­ing to come up with a new gen­er­a­tion of painkillers amid a US opi­oid ad­dic­tion cri­sis that has been de­scribed as a na­tional epi­demic by the au­thor­i­ties, with 91 people dy­ing each day by over­dos­ing on the drugs, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion.

More Amer­i­cans die from drug over­doses than from car crashes or guns, and more than 26 mare be­ing treated for ad­dic­tion, ac­cord­ing to CDC fig­ures.

“We think we’ve made a huge quan­tum leap for­ward,” said Stephen Dober­stein, chief sci­en­tific of­fi­cer at Nek­tar. “It’s a fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent ap­proach that sep­a­rates the anal­gesic ef­fi­cacy from the ad­dic­tive side ef­fects .”

Nek­tar shares shot up nearly 30 per cent on the back of the an­nounce­ment and were trad­ing at $19.98 yes­ter­day lunch time in New York.

Many of the big­ger, di­ver­si­fied pharma com­pa­nies have ei­ther steered clear of opi­oids or scaled back their op­er­a­tions. But a hand­ful rely heav­ily on sales of opi­oid painkillers, in­clud­ing De­pomed and Pur­due. Oth­ers, such as En do Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and Mallinck­rodt, gen­er­ate a large chunk of their rev­enue from the pills.

Nek­tar yes­ter­day re­leased the re­sults of a large clin­i­cal trial of its drug, co­de­named NKTR-181, which showed the medicine was as ef­fec­tive as tra­di­tional opi­oids at treat­ing chronic back pain. Pa­tient pain scores dropped by an av­er­age of 65 per cent dur­ing one part of the study. A sep­a­rate study into the abuse po­ten­tial of NKTR-181 showed that pa­tients tak­ing the rec­om­mended dose re­ported sig­nif­i­cantly lower “drug lik­ing” scores than for Oxy-Con­tin.

Mr Dober­stein said the com­pany was con­duct­ing an­other trial to de­ter­mine whether pa­tients would be­come high on sig­nif­i­cantly more than the rec­om­mended max­i­mum dose of 400mg.

How­ever, some doc­tors have ar­gued that the US needs to dra­mat­i­cally re­duce the num­ber of opi­oids that are pre­scribed to pa­tients rather than al­low­ing phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies to launch new ver­sion soft he medicines.

Dr An­drew Kolodny, co-direc­tor of opi­oid re­search at the Schneider In­sti­tutes for Health Pol­icy, said the prob­lem with pre­scrib­ing an opi­oid for a chronic con­di­tion such as lower back pain was that the drugs were “sim­ply not that ef­fec­tive — even if there is less eu­pho­ria”. He warned that pa­tients could still be­come “phys­i­o­log­i­cally de­pen­dent” on opi­oids even if they did not ex­pe­ri­ence a buzz.

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