Opioids are among the most effective way of treating severe chronic pain. However, they also have many side effects. Opioid overdose may cause life-threatening complications. Thus, researchers are looking for safer ways to manage chronic pain. It appears that monoclonal antibodies can be one such option. They can help manage chronic pain safely without any severe effects. Moreover, they have prolonged action, and thus it is possible to create monoclonal antibodies that require a single dose a month for pain relief for those living with chronic pain. There is no doubt that opioids are good for pain relief. Humans have traditionally used opioids to manage pain and other health conditions.
However, opioid addiction is also a significant problem globally. In the US alone, more than a million people have died due to drug overdose in the last 20 years, and most of these deaths have been related to opioid overdose1. Therefore, doctors are constantly looking for new and safer ways to treat pain. For example, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are relatively much safer. They do cause side effects, but they rarely cause deaths. However, NSAIDs are not good for controlling severe pains.
Currently, most painkillers belong to the group of drugs called small molecule drugs. These drugs have multiple health effects. They have good and bad effects. It seems that many side effects of NSAIDs and opioids are due to their broad spectrum of activity. In recent years, researchers have started focusing on more complex large molecules that can specifically target certain body receptors. Such drugs would not only be more effective, but they will also have fewer side effects and more predictable effects. One such way is using monoclonal antibodies, which may be a promising suboxone program for those seeking opioid addiction treatment.
Monoclonal antibodies are large molecules that bind with specific body receptors only. Hence, there is a hope that monoclonal antibodies may replace opioids in the future as a more effective opioid addiction treatment. If science can create good monoclonal antibodies, they might selectively block pain receptors. They would be more potent than opioids and yet safer. Of course, it sounds pretty exciting. However, monoclonal antibodies are very complex molecules. Additionally, the way pain is transmitted through various pathways is poorly understood. Nonetheless, science is fast making progress in the field. Science already knows much about pain receptors. They know that blocking specific nerve receptors may help lower pain sensation or even completely block pain.
One of the reasons why researchers are focusing on monoclonal antibodies now is due to recent breakthroughs in computational biology. Powerful computers have enabled researchers to create software that can simulate body functions and receptors. Now researchers can create or model monoclonal antibodies, which are large protein molecules. Then, by running a computer simulation, they can see if it will work and block specific receptors. These computer simulations are helping to gain better insight into how body cells and nerve cells function. How various receptors work, and how particular receptors can be blocked.
Computers are not a replacement for clinical studies. But, they can significantly reduce the time needed to create specific drugs, especially complex molecules like monoclonal antibodies. Researchers believe that monoclonal antibodies are the future of medicine. They can be used to treat almost any kind of health disorder. For example, using monoclonal antibodies to treat pain is not science fiction, as there are already some monoclonal antibodies in clinical use for treating chronic pains like migraine. Apart from being very specific, monoclonal antibodies have another distinct benefit. Unlike NSAIDs or opioids, which are broken by metabolic pathways in a few hours, monoclonal antibodies can stay in the body for days or even months. It means that one does not need to take monoclonal antibodies daily like most commonly used painkillers. In many cases, just a monthly injection of monoclonal antibodies would be enough to counter chronic pain. As one can understand that monoclonal antibodies can be really great for those living with chronic pain. In many cases, they might help treat the root cause of pain and thus provide permanent pain relief. In other instances, they may provide prolonged pain relief, and yet they are not likely to cause life-threatening side effects.
By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA, MHP