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Qld firm hones next-generation painkillers

New targeted painkillers potentially requiring fewer doses and with less side effects are being developed by a University of Queensland startup.

November 4, 2022
By Marty Silk
4 November 2022

Australian scientists are working on new painkilling drugs that are more targeted and with fewer side effects for people living with debilitating and chronic pain.

The medicines, which target a molecule believed to affect how the human body senses pain, are being developed by University of Queensland startup Cassowary Pharmaceuticals.

Company founder and UQ biotechnology expert Trent Munro says this type of therapy reduces potential side effects and safety issues associated with current pain treatments, and requires fewer doses.

“Creating drugs with these attributes could change the lives of millions of people who suffer from chronic neuropathic pain,” Professor Munro said in a statement.

About 10 per cent of Australia’s adult population is living with neuropathic pain from diseases and conditions such as cancer, sciatica, peripheral nerve injuries and osteoarthritis, he said.

However, many existing treatments don’t work for a large number of patients, or they carry the risk of side effects such as addiction and being toxic to the liver.

“We can create a drug that is very accurate, avoids the risk of liver toxicity, and lessens the overall medication load,” Prof Munro said.

Cassowary Pharmaceuticals plans to begin recruiting candidates for clinical trials in next 18 months and is aiming to take the drugs to the market.

The startup is one of four to receive funding earlier this year from the federal government’s Medical Research Future Fund.

Prof Munro said the planned drugs build on earlier scientific discoveries and lab tool developments by UQ professors Maree Smith and Greg Monteith, respectively.

Prof Smith’s research led to the development of an oral painkiller by another UQ spin-off Spinifex, which passed human trials in 2012.

Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis bought the technology in a purchase that included an upfront cash payment of $260 million, in what was billed as Australia’s largest ever biotech deal.

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