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Start-Up Formed to Develop Non-Opioid Pain Drugs



3 November 2017. A new enterprise is being formed to develop non-addictive drugs for chronic pain that use different biochemical processes than opioid pain relievers. The company Regulonix LLC was started by three researchers at the University of Arizona medical school in Tucson that study chronic pain and are exploring these alternative pathways for pain relief.

The researchers — pharmacologist May Khanna, neuroscientist and pharmacologist Rajesh Khanna, and medicinal chemist Vijay Gokhale — study a pathway known as the Nav1.7 sodium channel. This pathway is found in the membranes on nerve cells in the peripheral nervous system, where pain is felt. Opioids work by reducing the intensity of pain signals to the brain, particularly regions of the brain controlling emotion, which reduces effects of the pain stimulus. But by binding to receptors in the brain affecting emotions, opioids can also drive up dopamine levels, creating an addiction.

Khanna, Khanna, and Gokhale found in their research that targeting the Nav1.7 channel for pain relief is possible, but difficult. Earlier attempts to address this pathway reported limited success, due in part to side-effects on other similar sodium channels unrelated to pain that can cause nerve damage. Their solution is an engineered protein that blocks signals controlling expression and activity of the Nav1.7 channel, but leaves alone other related pathways.

In May 2017, Regulonix received a $300,000 Small Business Technology Transfer grant from National Cancer Institute, part of National Institute of Health, to develop an alternative treatment for neuropathic pain from cancer chemotherapy treatments. The work aims to prove the concept and validate the mechanism of the proposed treatments, both in lab cultures and animal tests. Earlier this year, May and Rajesh Khanna published results of a study showing how this protein can control Nav1.7 functions.

Regulonix is developing pain treatments addressing a second pathway, known as Cav2.2, a calcium channel that affects release of neurotransmitters in nerve cell networks in the brain, including those involved with pain. A protein similar to the one developed for Nav1.7 treatments, can also target this pathway, and according to Regulonix, could address pain from cancer and antiretroviral drugs, like those taken for HIV infections. For these treatments, a peptide, short chain of amino acids, is derived from the protein to specifically address pain signals, but not affect motor activity, memory, or learning. Rajesh Khanna holds a patent as the inventor of this technology.

The company licensed the rights to the technologies from University of Arizona. Regulonix was formed with help from Tech Launch Arizona, the university’s technology transfer and research commercialization office.

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