Scientists have tested a non-addictive painkiller in primates and found it to be safe and effective. The fact that the compound was successful in a species so closely related to humans strengthens the findings, which could help solve the opioid public health crisis.
AT-121 was designed with a dual purpose in mind: to block the addictive action of opioids and to relieve chronic pain at the same time.
To this end, Prof. Ko and colleagues developed the drug so that it would simultaneously have an action on the “mu” opioid receptor, which makes opioids effective in relieving pain, and the “nociceptin” receptor, which inhibits the addictive effect of opioids.
Some of the current opioids, such as fentanyl and oxycodone, only act on the mu opioid receptor, which is the main reason that they become addictive and have a wide range of side effects.
Prof. Ko explains, “We developed AT-121 that combines both activities in an appropriate balance in one single molecule, which we think is a better pharmaceutical strategy than to have two drugs to be used in combination.”
In their tests, the researchers revealed that the newly designed compound had a “morphine-like” pain-relieving effect, but it only needed the 100th part of a typical morphine dose to achieve this effect.