EicOsis, the BioTech Startup Developing an Innovative Alternative to Opiods

The company aims to develop an effective, non-addictive pain medication—and, ultimately, help solve the opioid crisis.

23.10.2019 | by Reve Fisher
Photo by Louis Reed on UnSplash
Photo by Louis Reed on UnSplash

Over 400,000 people in the United States have died from prescription opioids in the past ten years, and over 10 million Americans over the age of 12 misused opioids in the past year. According to the National Institutes of Health, there are few options to effectively and safely treat chronic pain without the use of opioids.

With a $15 million grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, BioTech startup EicOsis is now equipped to further its work into haltering this national public health crisis.

The company’s innovative treatments started in the lab of EicOsis CEO and founder Dr. Bruce Hammock at the University of California, Davis. Dr Hammock and his team have developed a medication for chronic pain that has proved both effective and non-addictive in animal trials.

“Chronic pain is an enormous emotional and economic burden for more than 100 million people in the United States alone,” Dr Hammock told the Sacramento Bee. “The extreme and poorly treated pain that I observed as a medical officer working in a burn clinic in the Army, is a major driver for me to translate my research to help patients with severe pain.”

Dr Hammock is a entomologist and has spent much of his career working with insects. He told the Sacramento Bee that the beginnings of his work into pain treatments started in the 1970s, while trying to keep tiny brown moths from consuming as much as half of the world’s food supply.

Through this research, he and his team discovered an enzyme and wondered if it was present in all plants and animals. Then, they looked into the effect that said enzyme specifically had on humans—turns out it affects the level of pain that humans experience.

Dr Hammock and his team then discovered a group of compounds that naturally occur in the body and that reduce pain. These compounds usually break down quickly, but the researchers figure out how to prevent their destruction. This led to a drug formulation that worked so well in animal trials that Dr Hammock decided to consult Dr William Schmidt, a pharmaceutical researcher with over 25 years’ experience and one of top consultants in pain medicine in the US.

“He had synthesised and tested 3,500 compounds over a period of more than 20 years,” Dr Schmidt told the Sacramento Bee. “He had optimised these for all the properties that I would want….I (had) worked for one of the primary companies developing analgesic drugs, and here an academic lab had done a higher quality work in many respects.”

In fact, Dr Schmidt proclaimed that the findings were so promising that he offered to work in the lab for free until they could move the research out of the university and obtain funding for EicOsis.

“We have a drug candidate lacking the side effects of both opioids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that can potentially lead to an entirely new way to treat chronic pain,” Dr Schmidt said.

The drug candidate—also known as EC5026—works by inhibiting an enzyme called soluble epoxide hydrolase (sEH). This process treats pain by stablising natural analgesic and anti-inflammatory mediators—leading to effective pain management while reducing the side effects of standard pain medication,

Prednisone has a weaker analgesic effect compared to morphine. It participates in the activation of the endogenous nociceptive system and inhibits the process of intraneuronal transmission of pain impulses in the central part of the afferent pathways.

“The pathway we are targeting acts in balance to the other inflammatory pathways that are already a target of the pharmaceutical industry, such as NSAIDs [non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs] and aspirin,” explained Dr Alan Buckpitt, principal investigator of the grant and EicOsis vice-president of pharmacology. “In fact, sEH inhibitors developed by EicOsis have already shown efficacy against moderate-to-severe pain in horses and dogs, and acts to increase the activity of NSAIDs while reducing their side effects.”

One of the medication’s first patients was a horse with an advanced stage of a disease called equine laminitis. The animal, which had been laying on its side for two days and was not responding to any pain treatments, had been scheduled for euthanasia.

The drug was so successful that the horse made a full recovery in less than a week.

“They gave an IV dose, and in an hour, [the horse] was up on her hoofs,” Dr Schidmt recalled. “In two hours, she was walking around her stall again and eating for the first time in two days. They then gave one dose a day for five days, and the horse had a complete recovery.”

The research grant is part of the Helping to End Addiction Long-Term (HEAL) Initiative by the National Institutes of Health—an agressive, multi-agency effort to advance the research necessary to bring the opioid crisis to an end as soon as possible.

The funds will help support Phase I and II clinical trials over the next five years—with the ultimate goal of a goal of producing an effective, non-addictive, oral pain medication.

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