A new class of painkillers may lower overdose deaths
Opioids offer incredible pain relief by acting on neuronal receptors. Unfortunately, they also have a powerful impact on portions of the brain that control respiration, leading to slower breathing – and in many instances – death.
Now, the FDA is in the process of approving a new class of opioid painkillers that provide the positive pain reducing effects, but without the respiratory depression. The first of these products is called Olinvo and was created by Trevena, a Philadelphia-based company.
Scientists believe Olinvo will be the first of many pain-relieving “biased agonists”—so called because, in binding a key opioid receptor in the central nervous system, they nudge it into a conformation that promotes a signaling cascade that kills pain over one that suppresses breathing.
However, there are sill questions about the addictive nature of these new compounds. “The $64,000 question is: What about dependence?” says Robert Lefkowitz, a biochemist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who shared the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on G-protein-coupled receptors.
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To learn more details about the chemistry behind biased opioids, visit Science Magazine.