New drugs may target cancer pain

  • Deborah Condon

Scientists have developed new drugs which have the potential to relieve cancer-related pain without causing many of the side-effects of current pain treatments.

At least nine in 10 cancer patients experience pain in the final year of their lives. The use of drugs such as morphine produces side-effects that can include depressed breathing, drowsiness, constipation and tolerance.

Unfortunately tolerance usually results in an increased dose of morphine, which in turn means that patients experience more of these side-effects.

Researchers at the University of Leicester in the UK and the University of Ferrara in Italy have collaborated to develop this new group of drugs which may not produce these side-effects.

"This work is still at a very early stage, but has the potential to change the way we think about making drugs for pain-related issues," explained one of the lead researchers, Prof David Lambert of the UK team.

The new group of drugs, which were developed in the University of Ferrara and tested by the University of Leicester, is designed to produce pain relief by acting at two targets simultaneously. The two target idea may provide effective pain relief with less tolerance.

According to the researchers, tolerance to strong painkillers like morphine ‘involves complicated biological processes, aspects of which still remain questionable'.

"Our research may provide some answers by designing new drugs that have multiple roles. We are now studying these drugs to see what they do in the long-term," they said.

They added that the work on the drugs needed to be refined ‘to enable studies to be performed in patients'.

"This may be a relatively long-term process, but it offers a completely new approach to pain management for cancer patients in the future," the team added.


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