Scientists have found a new non-addictive painkiller that could prove to be a valuable alternative to opioid drugs like morphine and oxycodone, according to a recent study published in the journal Nature Communications.
The promising compound is called benzyloxy-cyclopentyladenosine (or BnOCPA for short). Testing out the drug on model systems such as frog hearts, rat brains, and human cells, the international team of researchers found that BnOCPA showed to be non-addictive, potent, and selective in its pain-killing action.
Most notably, it appears that the drug would not cause sedation, bradycardia, hypotension, or respiratory depression, which are common concerns with strong painkillers.
Many drugs work by interacting with proteins on the surface of the cell that activate adapter molecules called G proteins. However, problems can arise because the activation of certain G proteins can lead to other cellular effects. The beauty of BnOCPA is that it only activates one type of G protein, leading to very selective effects and reducing potential side effects.
“This is a fantastic example of serendipity in science. We had no expectations that BnOCPA would behave any differently from other molecules in its class, but the more we looked into BnOCPA we discovered properties that had never been seen before, and which may open up new areas of medicinal chemistry,” Professor Bruno Frenguelli, principal investigator on the project from the University of Warwick’s School of Life Sciences, said in a statement.
The drug is yet to be trialed on a living, breathing human, but these results sound promising. Over 20 percent of people in the US experience chronic pain, and 7.4 percent of people experience chronic pain that significantly impacts their life, according to the CDC.
Drugs, such as opioids that are often used to treat pain can lead to nasty side effects, addiction, and overdoses. Given the very clear risks, the need for new, safe, and potent pain-killing drugs is enormous.
“The selectivity and potency of BnOCPA make it truly unique and we hope that with further research it will be possible to generate potent painkillers to help patients cope with chronic pain,” added Dr Mark Wall, lead researcher from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick.