NIH and Pharmaceutical Companies Join Efforts to Combat Opioid Problems

Federal health agencies and pharmaceutical companies plan to launch a joint effort to combat the current opioid addiction epidemic in the United States.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, and National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow, MD, made the announcement in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), describing the partnership as a joint public-private endeavor among the NIH, NIDA, and members of the pharmaceutical industry to cut the approval time for new therapies. The goal is threefold: “Developing better overdose-reversal and prevention interventions to reduce mortality, saving lives for future treatment and recovery; finding new, innovative medications and technologies to treat opioid addiction; and finding safe, effective, non-addictive interventions to manage chronic pain.”

The NEJM article noted that opioid overdose death rates in the United States have risen to approximately 90 deaths per day. Although buprenorphine and extended-release naltrexone are the standard of care for treatment of patients with opioid-use disorders, limited access to providers with expertise in their use and to formal pain management programs can create barriers to treatment with those agents, and relapse is common despite naltrexone and buprenorphine.

This public-private model is based on the NIH’s Accelerating Medicines Partnership, a program to develop new treatments for diseases including Alzheimer’s disease and lupus. In April 2017, NIH began discussions with pharmaceutical companies “to accelerate progress on identifying and developing new treatments that can end the opioid crisis,” Drs. Collins and Volkow noted. NIH will work with 10 drug companies and 12 advocacy groups to plan new treatments and diagnosis methods, with both sides contributing funding to these efforts. The directors hope to see early results from the initiative within 2 years.

Sources: The Washington Post, May 31, 2017; Volkow ND, Collins FS. The role of science in addressing the opioid crisis. N Engl J Med. 2017 May 31. [Epub ahead of print]