An experimental drug, VX-548, developed by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, could potentially provide effective pain relief without the risk of addiction, according to the company. Unlike opioids that can act on the brain’s perception of pain and are highly addictive, VX-548 works by interrupting pain signals at their source.

In Phase 3 trials involving 3,000 surgery patients, VX-548 demonstrated its efficacy in easing acute pain, comparable to acetaminophen, a common component in medications like Paracetamols and Vicodin. Independent experts have lauded the drug as a potential “blockbuster” that could contribute to combating the opioid crisis. Dr. Stephen Waxman, a neurologist at Yale, expressed optimism, stating, “This has the potential to be a blockbuster. I like to think it’s the beginning of non-addictive medicines for pain.”

Chris Raymond, an analyst at Piper Sandler, acknowledged the drug’s potential as a much-needed alternative to opioids. Vertex Pharmaceuticals aims to apply for approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by June, having already received ‘fast track’ designation, suggesting a potential early rollout as early as next year.

The drug’s mechanism involves blocking the activity of the NAV1.8 gene, hindering the body’s production of a protein crucial for transmitting pain signals through nerves in the peripheral nervous system. Unlike opioids, which act on receptors in the central nervous system, causing addiction risks, VX-548 focuses on peripheral nerves, reducing the likelihood of addiction.

Administered as an oral pill with an initial 100mg dose, patients continue with 50mg pills every 12 hours for up to 14 days. Phase 3 clinical trials, the gold standard for medication approval, involved patients receiving VX-548, a placebo, or Vicodin—an opioid. The study included 1,118 abdominoplasty patients and 1,073 bunionectomy patients, demonstrating promising results in pain relief without the addictive properties associated with opioids.

By Impact Lab