Drug companies race to make opioid alternatives: 4 things to know

Many companies and scientists are stepping up developmental efforts to make less addictive pain medications amid the ongoing opioid epidemic, according to Science.

Here are four things to know:

1. At the American Chemical Society's National Meeting last week in Boston, Neel Anand, PhD, senior director of medicinal chemistry at San Francisco-based Nektar Therapeutics, highlighted the company's drug NKTR-181, which is a version of oxycodone that produces more sustained pain relief with less euphoria.

2. Mountain View, Calif.-based Astraea Therapeutics is developing a drug called AT-121 that stimulates two different receptors in the brain to cut off the triggering circuit that leads to addiction, while still allowing pain relief throughout the body.

3. Aptinyx, a biotech firm in Evanston, Ill., is testing a compound called NYX-2925 in phase II clinical trials for diabetic nerve pain and fibromyalgia, which both involve symptoms of widespread muscle and skeletal pain. NYX-2925 is designed to reduce pain while also rewiring the brain's "neural circuitry away from being habituated to pain," according to Science.

4. Many of these studies have only completed animal testing and face many hurdles before ever hitting the market. However, this development is still encouraging, according to Laura Bohn, PhD, a biochemist at Jupiter, Fla.-based Scripps Research.

"There has been a really big push to develop opioid alternative pain relievers. But it has been really hard," she told Science.

More articles on opioids: 

Michigan Medicine agrees to $4.3M settlement over drug diversion case

FDA to encourage development of nonopioid pain therapies

FDA targets 21 websites selling illegal opioids

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