Could this back-pain device end need for opioids?

By JoAnne Viviano
The Columbus Dispatch
Posted Aug 20, 2017 at 12:01 AM
Updated Aug 20, 2017 at 6:05 AM

Could this back-pain device end need for opioids?

A new pain pellet that scientists are developing in Columbus is about half the size of a grain of rice, but researchers say it delivers a big dose of relief that could one day help fight the opioid epidemic. The tiny rod holds a nonaddictive painkiller that doctors could insert in the lower back, much like an epidural, to give a patient a break from chronic or acute pain, said Dr. Ali Rezai, director of the Neurological Institute at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. He would not reveal the painkiller, saying only that it is a drug that already has been used successfully as a cardiovascular medication.

Goals include giving physicians an alternative to the opioid-based pain medications that have led to addiction.

“We want to look at the opioid crisis,” Rezai said. “We want to stop it at its root.”

Supporters have formed a company, Sollis Therapeutics, to create the product and are now raising funds, said Dr. Greg Fiore, Sollis’ chief executive officer. Fiore hails from Boston and is the founder of Fiore Healthcare Advisors, a scientific consulting firm. Rezai serves as scientific adviser to Sollis.

A small trial of 55 people with sciatica — pain in the lower back and legs — showed that the pellet stopped pain for up to one year and was safe and easy to use, Fiore said. Researchers will next seek to perform a large clinical trial, hoping to confirm effectiveness and safety. The trial will involve a broader group of people culled from pain centers across Ohio.

If efficacy and safety are proved, researchers would seek approval for the pellet from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They hope to have the pellet in use within four or five years. Sollis, headquartered in the University District, is the second company to be formed by the Neurotechnology Innovations Translator, which is funded by the Ohio Third Frontier Program. Both seek to move ideas from the lab to the marketplace.

Opioids are commonly used to treat chronic pain, Rezai said.

But the highly addictive nature of the medications, Fiore said, is a reason to find alternatives. Someone who takes opioids for a single day, for example, has a 6 percent chance of being addicted a year later. “It’s really important to avoid starting, even for legitimate conditions,” he said. “It confers an increased risk for not being able to come off these drugs.”

Along with medications, 11 million steroid injections are given each year to treat neck and back pain in the United States, Rezai said. Such injections might not work and, when they do, relief doesn’t last long. He wanted to bring the project to Ohio, and hopes are to eventually manufacture the pellets here. Could this back-pain device end need for opioids?

“It’s one of the ground zero states for the opioid crisis,” Rezai said. “This is a big problem; it’s just spiraling, so we want to find solutions quickly.”

Could this back-pain device end need for opioids?