Researchers have identified an unusual compound which kills pain as well as morphine but may lack the same overdose risk.
The compound appears to replicate morphine’s pain killing properties without stimulating the molecular pathway which can stop patients breathing properly.
Respiratory suppression results in 30,000 drug overdose deaths each year in the US alone.
“This promising drug candidate was identified through an intensively cross-disciplinary, cross-continental combination of computer-based drug screening, medicinal chemistry, intuition and extensive preclinical testing,” said Brian Kobilka, MD, professor of molecular and cellular physiology at Stanford University.
Mouse studies indicate that the drug may also be less addictive than morphine and related drugs, but such a claim still requires additional testing in other animal studies.
The US is currently facing a painkiller addiction epidemic, with a recent study indicating that nearly half of Americans know someone who is addicted to the drugs.
The scientists separated the drug’s painkilling and respiration suppressing effects by activating the mu opioid receptor, where morphine-like drugs exert most of their painkilling power, but no other opioid receptors, and then triggering just the molecular pathway responsible for inducing a painkilling effect.
Aashish Manglik, MD, PhD, a recent graduate of Stanford’s Medical Scientist Training Program, said: “The field had wondered whether a small molecule with just the right chemical features to trip off one pathway, but not the other, could be designed.”