This article was originally published in Start Up
Pain seems as close to a sure bet as the pharmaceutical industry has to offer. Forecasts call for the worldwide analgesic market, already $38 billion in 2002, to grow at a 20% annual clip, nearly doubling to $75 billion by the year 2010. For new drug developers, pain also has the advantage of offering clearly definable endpoints-less pain-and a relatively short duration for clinical trials. No surprise then that more than 200 companies have a hand in developing or marketing pain therapeutics. Among them, the three young companies profiled here-AlgoRx Pharmaceuticals Inc., Algos Therapeutics Inc., and TheraQuest Biosciences LLC.
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Australia's Spinifex Pharmaceuticals has identified a compound that it believes represents an entirely new mechanism of action for neuropathic pain. Its lead agent is a G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) antagonist, in Phase I trials for post-herpetic neuralgia. Although the GPCR class is one of the most popular drug targets across the industry, Spinifex claims that the GPCR it's focused on is not commonly associated with pain research.
Aestus Therapeutics is using its bioinformatics platform to hunt down previously unsuspected associations between validated drug targets and neurological disease, to seek out compounds relevant to that target; ideally candidates that got as far as Phase II. The company claims to have identified half a dozen pathways not previously linked to neuropathic pain-such as the glycolysis pathway.
Arcion Therapeutics is focusing its development efforts on an existing chemical entity, clonidine, but its theory is more novel: that much or all of the abnormal pain signaling associated with neuropathic pain occurs in the skin. Thus it is trying to develop a topical form of clonidine, an alpha-2 adrenergic receptor agonist already marketed for high blood pressure. Arcion has uncovered a variety of mechanisms by which clonidine may relieve pain and hopes to soon begin a Phase IIb trial in diabetic neuropathy. The goal: a product that is easy to use and avoids many of the side effects associated with current treatments.