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NIH Outlines $500M Plan to Develop New Pain Drugs and Fight Opioid Crisis

Xconomy National — 

In an article published yesterday, National Institutes of Health leaders detailed how the NIH will spend the $500 million it got from Congress earlier this year to fight the opioid addiction epidemic.

The plan, called HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-term), includes new grants for 2018 and 2019 for academic groups and companies to fund the discovery of new drug targets and devices to safely treat pain ($20 million for 2018). The plan also creates new partnerships between the NIH, FDA, and companies to share data and assets on new non-addictive pain therapies that might be just sitting on shelves ($2.1 million for 2018), discover new biomarkers for pain ($1.2 million), and build a clinical trials network focused on conducting phase 2 trials of some of those shared assets ($1.8 million).

“All [of these initiatives] will be aimed at the same ultimate vision: a nation of people with far less disabling pain and opioid addiction,” wrote NIH director Francis Collins (pictured) and his coauthors in their article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. They added that the grants will be announced this summer.

Other parts of the wide-ranging plan focus on improving treatments for opioid addiction and withdrawal, launching a national, multi-site study to look at how best to treat addiction and overdose in communities, and spur the development of a vaccine for people recovering from addiction to help prevent relapse.

The plan’s leaders laid out some ambitious goals over the next five years: have five new drugs submitted to the FDA for approval and 15 drugs in clinical testing. Those drugs could include overdose reversal and addiction medicines and better pain drugs.

HEAL stems from several meetings the NIH and FDA have had with biopharma companies over the last year. The NIH had initially planned on using funding from industry for the initiative, but decided against it to avoid taking money from an industry that includes some companies that have helped fuel opioid addiction.

More details on the plan are here.