Research Foundation News

March 14, 2017

Specialized compound could lead to chronic pain relief without the use of opioids

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue researchers have discovered a compound that could lead to the treatment of chronic pain without the need for patients to rely on opioids.

A team led by Val Watts, associate head and professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology in Purdue’s College of Pharmacy, said the compound shows unparalleled selectivity in inhibiting the adenylyl cyclase 1 (AC1).

Adenylyl cyclases are enzymes that organize the production of cyclic adenosine monophosphate, an important biological messenger in numerous organisms. There are 10 isoforms of adenylyl cyclases found in humans. Numerous studies have suggested that AC1 could be used as a drug target for chronic pain.

The compound identified at Purdue has shown selectivity for inhibiting AC1 versus the other nine isoforms.

“With the AC1 technology, there’s a chance to treat chronic pain directly or through reducing the side effects of the opioids,” said team member Richard van Rijn, assistant professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology in Purdue’s College of Pharmacy. “There’s an issue with misuse of opioids used to treat chronic pain. They are good as a short-term analgesic for acute pain, but don't address the underlying issues of chronic pain.”

Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illicit drug heroin as well as prescription pain relievers oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl and others. They interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the brain and nervous system to produce pleasurable effects and relieve pain.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths involving prescription opioids have quadrupled since 1999. From 1999 to 2015, more than 183,000 people have died in the United States from overdoses related to prescription opioids.

The Watts group is the first to identify a compound that is selective for AC1 only.

Findings from the study are published in a research paper by Watts’ group that recently appeared in Science Signaling. There is also a recent news feature about the research in Science.

While the research is still in its early stages, another potential application for the compound is the possibility of reducing opioid dependence. Separate research has shown that completely deleting the AC1 enzyme reduces the signs of dependence.

“If you decrease the physical symptoms of withdrawal, that could help reduce psychological dependence,” Watts said. “You might also be able to stop relapse.”

The Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization has filed a provisional patent for the technology. For more information about developing and commercializing this or other Purdue innovations, contact the Purdue Office of Technology Communication at 765-588-3470, otc@prf.org

Grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Purdue Executive Vice President for Research and Partnerships helped fund the research.

About Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization

The Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization operates one of the most comprehensive technology transfer programs among leading research universities in the U.S. Services provided by this office support the economic development initiatives of Purdue University and benefit the university's academic activities. The office is managed by the Purdue Research Foundation, which received the 2016 Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Award for Innovation from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. For more information about funding and investment opportunities in startups based on a Purdue innovation, contact the Purdue Foundry at foundry@prf.org. For more information on licensing a Purdue innovation, contact the Office of Technology Commercialization at innovation@prf.org.

Writer: Curt Slyder, 765-588-3342, caslyder@prf.org

Sources: Val Watts, 765-496-3872, wattsv@purdue.edu

Richard van Rijn, 765-494-6461, rvanrijn@purdue.edu


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