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MedUni Vienna scientists discover new pain medication with fewer side effects
Chronic pain affects millions of people worldwide, greatly reducing quality of life. Many rely on opioid medications for pain relief, but these drugs come with considerable side effects like sedation, constipation, nausea, and potential for addiction. There is an urgent need for more targeted, safer alternatives. Now, scientists at MedUni Vienna have made an important discovery that could transform the search for better pain drugs.
Limitations of Current Opioid Pain Relievers

Opioids have been the mainstream treatment for moderate to severe pain for decades. However, they provide pain relief at a cost. Common opioid side effects like drowsiness, dizziness, constipation, and nausea affect the majority of patients. More dangerously, opioids carry risks of overdose, addiction, and withdrawal symptoms. Their lack of specificity means that activating opioid receptors for pain relief also activates receptors that lead to undesirable effects.

As the opioid epidemic has shown, dependence on these medications can be devastating for patients and societies. Particularly for chronic pain patients who need long-term relief, the repercussions of prolonged opioid use warrant the development of safer, non-addictive options.

Novel Computer-Aided Drug Design Approach
Application of this methodology led to the discovery of a promising opioid-like compound for pain relief. Called DeNovo Circular Peptide-β-naloxamine (DNCP-β-NalA(1)), this selectively targets and activates κ-opioid receptors.

Animal studies showed DNCP-β-NalA(1) provided substantial pain relief on par with conventional opioids. Excitingly, it triggered little to none of those drugs’ common side effects like sedation, meaning it could retain effectiveness while being better tolerated.
Wider Applications for Drug Development
This research highlighted how computer-driven drug design can uncover novel compounds with favorable clinical profiles. Beyond chronic pain, the technique could be applied to improve treatments for diverse conditions like heart disease, diabetes, depression, and more.

As Dr. Gruber stated, “Within the course of our study, we have developed a workflow that facilitates the discovery and development of novel painkillers.” Notably, κ-opioid receptors are prototypical GPCRs. So the drug design and screening process used can be translated to other therapeutically relevant GPCR targets.
Next Steps for Further Evaluation
While promising, there are limitations. Effects were only measured in animal models, primarily studying impact on pain sensitivity. Further studies in humans are needed to fully confirm efficacy and side effect profile.

The novel compound also warrants testing for risks like addiction, misuse, and long term impact on hormones or organs. Safety will be scrutinized before clinical use is considered.

If human trials sucessfully demonstrate reduced side effects with maintained pain relief, this pioneering work could finally provide a safer opioid alternative for chronic pain patients. From a wider lens, Dr. Gruber’s team has opened new horizons for rational drug design that can transform treatment options for multitudes suffering from poor health.

3 Comments on MedUni Vienna scientists discover new pain medication with fewer side effects

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