With the opioid epidemic raging across America, many scientists are in search of an alternative painkilling drug — one that could be used in place of opioids, without the deadly side effects.
Now, a team of researchers in the U.S. and Japan say they’ve developed a promising new synthetic drug that could be as effective as opioids in relieving pain but without posing the risk of addiction. In a new study, the drug, called AT-121, successfully relieved pain in rhesus monkeys without resulting in harmful side effects or causing the monkeys to become addicted. Still, more research is needed before the drug could be evaluated in humans.
Although the number of opioids prescribed in the U.S. has decreased since its peak in 2010, the levels remain high. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that there were more than 42,000 deaths from opioid overdoses in 2016, up from 33,000 deaths in 2015, Live Science previously reported.
The fact that the drug was studied in a primate model, rather than in a mouse model as is done in many similar studies, means that the effects of the drug are likely much closer to what scientists would expect to see in humans, Roth said. And the monkeys didn’t experience any changes in respiratory health while taking AT-121, which suggests that an overdose would be unlikely to cause the harmful or fatal respiratory effects associated with an opioid overdose. “That would be a significant advance if that [result] is transferable to humans,” Roth added.
The scientists plan to continue their research by carrying out the safety and toxicology studies that are required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before proceeding with human clinical trials. “We want to move as fast as possible because our results are exciting,” Zaveri told Live Science. The scientists are also researching other compounds that have a similar profile as AT-121, she added.