As per a research published in journal Nature, scientists have created a new drug that blocks pain but does not cause side effects that current prescription painkillers can.
Researchers from Stanford University used computational techniques to explore more than four trillion different chemical interactions to custom – engineer the drug.
For this, the atomic structure of brain’s “morphine receptor” was used and a drug candidate was developed that blocked pain as effectively as morphine in mouse experiments, but without the side effects.
As per researchers, the custom – engineered drug did not hamper breathing, which was the main cause of death in cases of prescription painkillers or cause constipation, considered another common side effect.
Another benefit seems to be that the drug steered clear of brain’s dopamine – driven addiction circuitry. It did not cause any drug seeking behavior in mice. However, as per scientists, more research is needed to confirm that the drug is safe and effective in humans.
The study took a different, more radical approach than the one adopted for drug discovery by taking a successful drug like morphine and changing its structure so as to possibly remove side effects while still maintaining its core function.
Researchers turned to a computational approach called molecular docking, with information about the atomic structure of the mu-opoid receptor.
They performed roughly four trillion “virtual experiments” on a computer cluster in a two – week period. They found configurations that were most likely to fit into a pocket on the receptor by simulating how millions of different candidate drugs could turn and twist in different angles.
23 candidate molecules were shortlisted after researchers tried to avoid molecules that could stimulate beta-arrestin2, considered part of a biological pathway linked to the respiratory suppression and constipation. Thereafter, the compound’s chemical efficacy was optimised 1000-fold by researchers. A molecule, called PZM21 was produced by researchers, which is considered chemically unrelated to existing opioid drugs.