Take that, opioids

The good people at Wake Forest University are working to find a safe, non-addictive pain killer to help fight the current opioid crisis. As published in Science Translational Medicine, researchers “have developed a bifunctional MOP/NOP agonist, called AT-121, that showed potent analgesic effects in nonhuman primates without inducing hyperalgesia, respiratory depression, or dependence. The results suggest that bifunctional MOP/NOP agonists might represent a safe and effective pharmacological tool for treating severe pain.” Well done. Can anyone say Fast Track designation? Researchers observed that AT-121 showed the same level of pain relief as an opioid, but at a 100-times lower dose than morphine and it blunted the addictive effects of oxycodone. Yes, it’s early and the tests were not in humans, but it looks like these researchers are off to a promising start. Best of luck!

Sweatin’ to the Chili Peppers

What do you get when you cross the Red Hot Chili Peppers with Richard Simmons? Well, you get the potential for an anti-obesity drug. Researchers at the University of Wyoming School of Pharmacy have studied a new oral drug (Metabocin) based on capsaicin—the compound that gives chili peppers their spicy burn— that caused long-term weight loss and improved metabolic health in mice eating a high-fat diet. Yep, the studies are in the preclinical phase, but so far they’ve found success targeting receptors called TRPV1 (transient receptor potential vanilloid subfamily 1) that are found in high numbers in fat cells. Can’t one simply ingest a bottle of Tabasco and lose weight? Nope, the capsaicin was modified for proper absorption and sustained release. Ok, second chance, you know you want to click on the Richard Simmons link.

Hearts two sizes too small

No, it’s not The Grinch, but organoids are a great Christmas in July gift for the preclinical researchers in your life. Drugmakers spend tons just to get their drugs to Phase I research but could lose big if too many side effects occur in these first rounds of human trials. For instance, only 6.6% of Phase I cardiovascular INDs make it to Phase II. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could test a drug’s effects on say, a model of the human heart? Some biotech companies have recently developed the means to create 3D assays known as organoids—artificially-grown cell structures that can actually mimic organ functions instead of just the compositions of those organs (i.e. older 3D assays.) Watch out for more companies contracting their services to cut down on investment and—more importantly—patient risk.

That’s one small gene in mice, one giant leap in curing HIV

If Neil Armstrong were a scientist, we’re pretty sure he would’ve said that about this breakthrough study. For the first time ever, the spread of the HIV virus was stopped in its tracks in a living animal, including in a humanized model. Kudos to Dr. Wenhui Hu and his team at LKSOM. This was done by using the gene editing technology CRISPR/Cas9. After replicating the findings from their previous proof-of-concept study, the team tested mice infected with EcoHIV (mouse equivalent to human HIV-1) and mice that were engrafted with human immune and T cells (i.e., “humanized”) then HIV-1. In both tests they were able to successfully excise and block further infection. Take that, HIV.

1. Say goodbye to grumpy junkie monkeys

A new opioid drug might be the cause for celebration in the midst of America’s painkiller epidemic. Researchers studied compound BU08028 in non-human primates to assess its effects on pain relief. The results? Well first and foremost, it eliminates pain just as well as other opioids like morphine. But unlike other opioids, it does it without adverse effects on primates’ respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Most importantly, it does so without being addictive. When researchers allowed monkeys to self-administer pain medication they found the monkeys didn’t use BU08028 more than the control dose of saline. Seems like the only thing we have to worry about in this experiment is a revenge plot from the monkeys who had their tails dipped in hot water.