NIH gives nearly $2 million grant to fund development of non-opiate chronic pain treatment

January 14, 2020

The funds were given to a Cornell Medicine professor and Akelos Inc. to develop the non-addictive neuropathic treatment alternative.

In an effort to battle the nation’s habit for addictive, opioid treatment option for chronic pain, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have awarded a $1,757,406 grant to a professor and a biotechnology company, according to a news release.

The two-year grant was awarded to Weill Cornell Medicine anesthesiology professor Peter A. Goldstein, MD, and Akelos Inc. under the NIH’s Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative which is an attempt to improve treatments for chronic pain and curb opioid addiction and overdose, the release says.

“Despite irreparable damage caused by the worst health care crisis in the history of the U.S. - the opioid crisis - not enough is being done to address this public health emergency,” Steven Fox, DDS, founder of Akelos Inc., says in the release. “With more than 21 million American adults suffering from neuropathic pain, there exists a significant need for alternatives to opioid therapies. That is why we have tapped the most qualified doctors in the country to collaborate on the development of a non-addictive medicine for the treatment of chronic and neuropathic pain.”

The goal is to leverage the NIH funds to develop a candidate therapy for pain caused by neurological damage somewhere other than the brain and spinal cord. The team is currently developing a small molecule version of their candidate drug, which would be suitable to be taken orally. There are also plans to develop an injectable version, according to the release.

“We’re thrilled to have received this highly competitive, peer-reviewed award from NIH,” says Goldstein in the release. “Such support validates our approach to finding a better therapy for peripheral neuropathic pain; if we’re successful we could fundamentally alter the management of a medical problem for which current treatments are insufficient.”

Neuropathic pain is often described as a shooting or burning sensation caused by damage to the neurons or nerve fibers that normally transport pain signals to the brain. This leads to the neurons becoming hypersensitive or hyperactive, the release says.

According to the release, more than 20 percent of U.S. adults have chronic pain leading to more than $90 billion spent annually on the condition. Adding to the problem, an estimated 10.3 million people, aged over 12, misused opioids, including the illicit drug heroin, in 2018.