New Approaches to Neuropathic Pain
This article was originally published in Start Up
In some ways, neuropathic pain seems an odd choice of focus for a small start-up. It comes in many forms and its mechanisms are poorly understood. Moreover, the size and strength of those with stakes in the pain market might be another reason for emerging companies to steer clear. Fortunately, they're not. The unmet need is huge: Only one in two patients actually get some relief from existing drugs, in part because their mechanisms of action are fairly generalized. There remains plenty to be done in identifying and understanding the precise mechanisms behind the various flavors of neuropathic pain. For those whocan figure out new approaches to pain or new uses in pain for failed or overlooked compounds -- the companies profiled in this issue are doing both -- there's a big reward at the end: Sales of neuropathic pain therapies in the seven major pharmaceutical markets reached nearly $5 billion in 2007.
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Imagine exposing a person to a particular wavelength of light and having a predetermined species of neuron shut down for as long as that light is on. Then a second light comes in to turn another neuron off, or turn one on, and so on. That's what an emerging group of researchers and a couple of start-up companies hope to be able to do, to potentially treat a variety of neurological conditions from chronic pain to seizures to spinal cord injury and even eye diseases.
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.