By Nancy Herlin, Founder and Board Chair of Neuropathy Alliance of Texas
In listening to hundreds of neuropathy patients tell their stories over the years, there is one thing that is constant. Most say their treatments, especially their medications, are ineffective in managing their pain and symptoms. Many say that they’ve had to stop their medications due to the unwanted side effects. I’ve longed to tell them that there is something around the corner that is effective, non-addictive and without unwanted side effects. That day may be sooner than I’d expected.
Last month I was contacted by Bev Anderson, a neuropathy patient herself and the head of the Western Neuropathy Association, a non-profit that offers many neuropathy support groups in California. We periodically talk and share information and best practices. She excitedly told me about research that has been conducted at UC Davis by Professor Bruce Hammock and team that just might shake up the multibillion-dollar prescription painkiller market. This research has pinpointed a key mechanism that causes neuropathic pain – endoplasmic reticulum stress or ER stress and has led to the development of a non-opiate analgesic that has had surprising results in animal trials.
Dr. Hammock, an entomologist, has studied insect developmental biology over the past 20 years. His successful work isolating and targeting an enzyme in corn earworms, fleas and mosquitos led his team to wonder if plants, animals and humans had the same enzyme. They found that they did, and it played a role in how much pain humans experience. This led them to find a group of naturally occurring compounds in the body that reduce pain. These compounds normally break down rapidly, but his team figured out a way to block the normal destruction of these compounds. “We have found a new anti-inflammatory and analgesic branch to the arachidonate cascade.” said Dr Hammock “The natural endogenous chemicals in this branch decrease pain and inflammation. Our drugs work by preserving these mediators.”
Hammock said that figuring out how to prevent the compounds from breaking down led to a drug formulation that worked so well in animal trials he questioned their amazing results. He called one of the most respected pharmaceutical researchers in the world, Bill Schmidt to share their process and results. Schmidt found this novel drug candidate so promising that he’s working at no charge for them until they can move the technology out of UC Davis and secure financing for Hammock’s company eicOsis (pronounced Eye-co-sis).
While Hammock and team were developing drug candidates for humans, they also were testing them on horses and companion animals. The results of the horse testing have been amazing. As a horse owner myself, I’m aware of a debilitating disease called equine laminitis. This causes inflammation and swelling in the hoofs and legs so severe that horses cannot stand. In some ways, this debilitating disease reminds me of human neuropathy. Laminitis is not in itself a fatal disease; however, the associated pain and debilitation can be so severe and chronic that euthanasia ultimately is in the best interest of the horse. Testing this drug candidate on ten horses resulted in 8 of 10 horses with laminitis responding favorably to treatment.
“Many large pharma companies have been unable to translate their rodent work on pain medicines to man. The fact that we can successfully treat cats, dogs and horses with real pain (not model pain) and who present with complex co morbidities gives us confidence that we will be able to translate to man.” said Dr. Hammock.
Most exciting is that Hammock and team have received $4 million in support from the National Institutes of Health and $5 million from Open Philanthropy toward the human clinical trials. They cleared FDA approval to begin their clinical trial of the drug candidate right here in Austin this fall with Phase 1A human clinical trials at PPD testing for side effects on healthy volunteers.
“We’re off and running toward changing the way that we treat acute pain and chronic pain in this country, hopefully moving a lot of the treatment away from opioids to nonaddictive compounds that are highly effective and also giving opportunity for those patients who can’t benefit from drugs… like ibuprofen and naproxen because their pain is either much higher than those drugs can treat or because they’ve had adverse reactions (to them)” Schmidt said. “I hope we can offer a compound that is safer and more effective for them to use as well.”
If all goes well, they expect this drug to be available to the public in 4-5 years.
Thanks to Kathy Garvey, UC Davis and The Sacramento Bee for article information.