The Harvard Medical School announced this week a project it says may “transform the treatment of chronic pain.”
A consortium based at the Laboratory of Systems Pharmacology (LSP) at Harvard Medical School has launched an ambitious project titled STOP PAIN (Safe Therapeutic Options for Pain and Inflammation) which aims to identify compounds that selectively block the activity of nociceptors–the sensory neurons that sense and initiate pain–with the goal of developing new, preclinical drug candidates that offer an alternative to the opioid-based medications.
The project is led by researchers from HMS and Boston Children’s Hospital, with collaborators from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Germany.
It is supported by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) through the Panacea program, which aims to engender new therapies that address under-met medical needs of active duty soldiers and veterans. The DARPA cooperative agreement includes funding of over $23-million.
The STOP PAIN consortium encompasses expertise across research disciplines, including neurobiology, systems pharmacology, stem cell biology, and computational and medicinal chemistry.
Peter Soger is the Otto Krayer Professor of Systems Pharmacology and director of the Harvard Program in Therapeutic Science (HiTS) and the LSP at HMS.
“We have substantial opportunities today to combine new laboratory methods, advanced chemistry and artificial intelligence and bring those tools to bear on the enormous societal, scientific and medical challenges of pain management,” Peter Sorger said.
Efforts to develop nonopioid pain therapies have been largely unsuccessful, highlighted, for example, by the high-profile recall of the prescription pain and inflammation drug Vioxx in 2014. Currently available medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen are not as effective as opioids and, when used long-term, can have adverse side effects that include gastrointestinal bleeding and liver damage.
Due to the lack of viable alternatives, prescription opioids remain a primary therapeutic option for the management of both acute and chronic pain.