Southern Research Receives $4.5M NIH Grant to Develop Opioids with Milder Side Effects

Southern Research Receives $4.5M NIH Grant to Develop Opioids with Milder Side Effects

Southern Research, a not-for-profit organization with nearly 500 scientists and engineers working in drug discovery and development, engineering, energy and environment, was recently awarded a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) of the National Institutes of Health to fund the development of opioid drugs for chronic pain.

These pipeline medications could soon offer market treatment options that cause less adverse effects than traditional and frequently prescribed drugs, such as morphine. The grant will be awarded over 5 years and totals $4.5 million. The funding will be used to plan and create new pain relief compounds and proceed with in vitro and in vivo testing to identify which new compounds have the most promise to advance into further development.

Today, it is estimated that over 100 million Americans suffer from some form of chronic pain. This strains the country’s economy by roughly $600 billion in health dollars every year, which is surprisingly greater than the combined economic cost of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. When prescribing for moderate to severe acute and chronic pain, physicians usually resort to opioids, which bear a high risk of adverse side effects, such as drowsiness, mental confusion, nausea, constipation, and respiratory depression, which can either be dangerous for high-risk patients or diminish one’s ability to carry out activities of daily living. Long term use of opioids has also been linked to physical dependence, and addiction. These potent opioids include hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, codeine, and many others.

“There is a crucial, medical need for novel painkillers that are as effective as morphine, without the significant side effects,” said Subramaniam Ananthan, Ph.D., principal investigator and principal research scientist in drug discovery at Southern Research. “We recently discovered novel opioid compounds possessing analgesic activity with diminished propensity to induce tolerance. The goal of this grant will be to further the development of a potential compound with improved bioavailability for clinical development.”

The research initiative will be headed by Dr. Ananthan together with a team of researchers at Southern Research and the University of New England, who are specialized in medicinal chemistry, molecular modeling, in vitro and in vivo opioid pharmacology, and drug metabolism/pharmacokinetics (DMPK).

“From our previous research, we have a better understanding of the neurobiology of opioid systems, pain, and addiction, and the scientists at Southern Research were able to synthesize lead molecules that interact with the opioid receptors in a novel way, providing pain relief, while having greatly reduced side effects,” said Edward Bilsky, Ph.D., University of New England vice president for research and scholarship and professor of pharmacology. “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 and will enable us to further refine these molecules and validate them for testing in humans.”

Dr. Bilsky builds on a two-decade long collaborative relationship with Dr. Ananthan in the fields of opioid pharmacology, pain, and drug addiction.

“Dr. Ananthan is a highly-knowledgeable medicinal chemist with extensive experience in drug discovery and an exceptional publication record,” said Mark J. Suto, Ph.D., vice president of drug discovery at Southern Research. “The team of researchers is well qualified to handle this project, and they have a long-standing record of successful collaboration. I look forward to their progress.”