• Press Release

Chemical Compound Shows Promise as Alternative to Opioid Pain Relievers

Drug targeting a protein complex containing two different types of opioid receptors may be an effective alternative to morphine and other opioid pain medications.

  • New York, NY
  • (July 01, 2013)

A drug targeting a protein complex containing two different types of opioid receptors may be an effective alternative to morphine and other opioid pain medications, without any of the side effects or risk of dependence, according to research led by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. The findings are published in July in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Morphine is still the most widely-used pain reliever, or analgesic, in people with severe pain, but chronic use can lead to addiction and negative side effects such as respiratory issues, constipation, or diarrhea.

In a previous study published in Science Signaling by Lakshmi Devi, PhD, Professor of Pharmacology and Systems Therapeutics at Mount Sinai, researchers identified a therapeutic target called a GPCR heteromer, which is a protein complex that is made up of two opioid receptors called mu and delta.  They also showed that the heteromer is abundant in the area of the brain that processes pain, and is the likely cause of morphine tolerance and side effects.

In the current study, Dr. Devi carried out high throughput screening in collaboration with researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to identify which small molecules might act on the signaling pathway associated with this protein complex. Researchers found one compound called CYM51010 that was as potent as morphine, but less likely to result in tolerance and negative side effects. Dr. Devi’s team is currently developing modified versions of this compound that may have potential as analgesics with reduced side effects.

“GPCR heteromers have been suggested to represent powerful targets for improved, novel therapeutics with reduced adverse effects in people with severe pain,” said Dr. Devi. “However, there are presently no chemical tools that allow us to investigate their role in vivo. Our work represents a promising step in this direction, providing results that pave the way towards a new understanding of the function and pharmacology of opioid receptor heteromers.”

Dr. Devi and her team are currently working with co-author Marta Filizola, PhD, Associate Professor of Structural and Chemical Biology at Mount Sinai, to learn how CYM51010 binds to the protein complex. Armed with this information, they hope to modify the compound to treat pain without the development of dependency. They also plan to restrict their benefit to the gastrointestinal system and treat diarrhea associated with irritable bowel disease that is unresponsive to existing therapies.

This study was supported by National Institute on Drug Abuse Grants R01-008863 and K05-019521.

About The Mount Sinai Medical Center
The Mount Sinai Medical Center encompasses both The Mount Sinai Hospital and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Established in 1968, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai is one of the leading medical schools in the United States. The Icahn School of Medicine is noted for innovation in education, biomedical research, clinical care delivery, and local and global community service. It has more than 3,400 faculty members in 32 departments and 14 research institutes, and ranks among the top 20 medical schools both in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding and by U.S. News & World Report.

The Mount Sinai Hospital, founded in 1852, is a 1,171-bed tertiary- and quaternary-care teaching facility and one of the nation’s oldest, largest and most-respected voluntary hospitals. In 2012, U.S. News & World Report ranked The Mount Sinai Hospital 14th on its elite Honor Roll of the nation’s top hospitals based on reputation, safety, and other patient-care factors. Mount Sinai is one of just 12 integrated academic medical centers whose medical school ranks among the top 20 in NIH funding and by U.S. News & World Report and whose hospital is on the U.S. News & World Report Honor Roll.  Nearly 60,000 people were treated at Mount Sinai as inpatients last year, and approximately 560,000 outpatient visits took place.

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About the Mount Sinai Health System

Mount Sinai Health System is one of the largest academic medical systems in the New York metro area, with 48,000 employees working across eight hospitals, more than 400 outpatient practices, more than 600 research and clinical labs, a school of nursing, and a leading school of medicine and graduate education. Mount Sinai advances health for all people, everywhere, by taking on the most complex health care challenges of our time—discovering and applying new scientific learning and knowledge; developing safer, more effective treatments; educating the next generation of medical leaders and innovators; and supporting local communities by delivering high-quality care to all who need it.

Through the integration of its hospitals, labs, and schools, Mount Sinai offers comprehensive health care solutions from birth through geriatrics, leveraging innovative approaches such as artificial intelligence and informatics while keeping patients’ medical and emotional needs at the center of all treatment. The Health System includes approximately 9,000 primary and specialty care physicians and 11 free-standing joint-venture centers throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and Florida. Hospitals within the System are consistently ranked by Newsweek’s® “The World’s Best Smart Hospitals, Best in State Hospitals, World Best Hospitals and Best Specialty Hospitals” and by U.S. News & World Report's® “Best Hospitals” and “Best Children’s Hospitals.” The Mount Sinai Hospital is on the U.S. News & World Report® “Best Hospitals” Honor Roll for 2023-2024.

For more information, visit https://www.mountsinai.org or find Mount Sinai on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.