A Promising Alternative to Opioid Pain Medications

There is a growing problem of misuse of prescription opioids, opioid addiction, and overdose. This highlights the crucial need for finding an addiction-free alternative medication that can be used to treat severe pain.

Researchers are currently testing a new compound, called AT-121, which may have potential as an equally effective yet nonaddictive pain relief medication. The scientists are also suggesting the new compound may have potential as a treatment alternative for opioid addiction.

The researchers from Astraea Therapeutics have developed the compound so that it will bind to the mu opioid receptor (MOR). However, unlike other opioids, AT-121 also binds to another opioid receptor called the nociceptin/orphanin FQ peptide (NOP) receptor. This particular interaction enhances AT-121’s ability to relieve pain and blocks unwanted side effects.

So far trials have been carried out using primates with results showing that following administration of AT-121, the monkey's pain is wholly suppressed. The monkeys also showed little inclination to self-administer AT-121 suggesting there is little motivation to misuse the medication.

Overall the results in non-human primates suggest AT-121 may deliver therapeutic action for safe and effective pain relief and treating prescription opioid abuse.

Ding, Huiping, Norikazu Kiguchi, Dennis Yasuda, Pankaj R Daga, Willma E Polgar, James J Lu, Paul W Czoty, Shiroh Kishioka, Nurulain T Zaveri, and Mei-Chuan Ko. "A Bifunctional Nociceptin and Mu Opioid Receptor Agonist Is Analgesic without Opioid Side Effects in Nonhuman Primates." Science Translational Medicine 10, no. 456 (2018):
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