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NIH funding goes to Akelos, Weill Cornell Medicine for development of nonopioid chronic pain treatment

November 04, 2019

By Mary Beth Versaci

Researchers seeking to develop a nonopioid alternative for treating neuropathic pain have received a $1,757,406 grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The two-year grant is part of $945 million the agency awarded across 41 states through the Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative.

Akelos Inc., a biopharmaceutical company, and Weill Cornell Medicine are collaborating on the research. Peter Goldstein, M.D., Akelos scientific founder and professor of anesthesiology at Weill Cornell Medicine, will serve as the principal investigator.

Akelos Research Sidebar Fox
Dr. Fox
Akelos was started by Dr. Steven Fox, a cosmetic dentist based in New York City and the founder of Enamelon Inc., to address the opioid epidemic by developing nonopioid alternatives.

Neuropathic pain is chronic pain caused by damage to the neurons or nerve fibers that normally transmit pain signals to the brain, resulting in them becoming hypersensitive or hyperactive.

More than 20% of U.S. adults have chronic pain, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report based on 2016 data.

"You have 500 million people worldwide with chronic pain, they get no relief, there are no good drugs to help them, and then you compound that with the worst health care crisis in the history of the United States, which is the opioid crisis, because they’re getting opioids for lack of a good drug," Dr. Fox said. "I thought that this was really so compelling because I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this before and maybe I'll never see anything like it again, in terms of the need."

The researchers are aiming to develop a candidate therapy for peripheral neuropathic pain, which is when the damage has occurred somewhere in the body outside the brain and spinal cord.

Goldstein
Dr. Goldstein
Courtesy of Travis Curry

The therapy would be based on a molecule that selectively blocks an ion channel protein called HCN1, which normally helps drive the activity of peripheral pain neurons and can become overactive in peripheral neuropathic pain, according to a news release from Weill Cornell Medicine.

The initial goal would be to develop an oral drug, but the researchers also are hoping to create an injectable version.

Dr. Fox said receiving the NIH grant was a big win on multiple levels, and it could open the door to other grants.

"Most importantly, it validates our science," he said.