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Europain consortium receives EU and industry funding and begins five year research into better treatments for chronic pain Europain, a public-private consortium funded by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), announced today the launch of a five-year research project to understand and improve treatment of chronic pain. The project will receive 6M€ from the IMI as well as 12.5M€ in kind contribution from the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) over the coming five years.

One in five adults suffers from chronic pain. This constitutes a major cause of long-term sick leave and forced early retirement, placing a great financial burden on both individuals and healthcare systems. Despite extensive research programmes by biopharmaceutical companies and academia, there remains a need for treatments that are more effective and with fewer side-effects.

Europain has established an international team of leading researchers and clinicians from both academia and industry to undertake multidisciplinary translational research. This team aims to increase the understanding of chronic pain mechanisms, help to develop novel analgesics, and develop better biomarkers for pain. Their ultimate goal is to improve the lives of people suffering from chronic pain.

During the five-year project, Europain will undertake a large number of preclinical and clinical studies. The program will be delivered through collaboration between laboratories in the Europain network, sharing resources to improve the value derived from the budget. Results will be made public during and after the project, ensuring that the knowledge created can be widely applied to the development of better therapies for patients suffering from chronic pain.

King’s College London, the managing entity of Europain and the academic lead institution will contribute to both the pre-clinical and clinical aspects of the project. One role will be to study the expression of potential pain mediators in both animal models of pain and samples from patients suffering from chronic pain. The role of novel pain mediators will then be investigated using an array of techniques ranging from cell culture to quantitative sensory testing in humans.

Professor Steve McMahon, who along with Dr Dave Bennett will be running the project at King’s, comments: ‘There are some big questions facing the pain field at the moment and this consortium, drawing on the skills and expertise of both academia and industry, is in a unique position to address them’.

The consortium network involves scientists representing 12 renowned European Universities: King’s College London (Academic lead), University College London, Imperial College London, the University of Oxford, the Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel, the Medical Faculty Mannheim/Heidelberg University, the Technische Universität München, the Goethe University of Frankfurt, the BG University Hospital Bergmannsheil/Ruhr University Bochum, the University Hospitals of Aarhus, Rigshospitalet Copenhagen, University of Southern Denmark, the SME Neuroscience Technologies from Barcelona, and the research resources and expertise of Europe’s most active pharmaceutical companies working in the field of analgesics, including AstraZeneca (co-ordinator), Boehringer-Ingelheim, Eli Lilly, Esteve, Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis, UCB Pharma.

About the Innovative Medicines Initiative

IMI is a unique Public-Private Partnership (PPP) between the pharmaceutical industry represented by the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) and the European Union represented by the European Commission.
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Past Research
Cannabinoid signalling in the pain pathway
While the psychotropic and medicinal use of cannabis has been appreciated for millennia, it is only recently that endocannabinoids and their cognate receptors and synthesising and degrading enzymes have been identified. Because of its many similarities with the opioid system this has spurred interests to harness the cannabinoid system as a target for potential novel analgesic drugs. In addition to their role in pain modulation, endocannabinoids have now been recognized as powerful signalling molecules involved in such diverse functions as memory and amelioration of exitotoxicity. Two G-protein-coupled receptors have been identified as the main target for endogenous and exogenous cannabinoids. The CB1 Receptor is found throughout the brain, spinal cord and peripheral neurons, whereas the CB2 receptor is found on non-neuronal cells including glia cells. While it is generally thought that the classic tetrad of cannabinoids (hypolocomotion, antinociception, hypothermia, and catalepsy) and its psychotopic properties are a reflection of CB1 activation in the CNS, the presence of CB1 receptors on primary sensory neurons has rekindled an interest in the peripheral action of cannabinoids in antinociception. This is attractive from a drug development point of view, because of the possibility to divorce supraspinal side effects from antinociceptive action by designing drugs incapable of crossing the blood brain barrier or by regional intrathecal delivery.
The projects therefore uses a range of techniques to study the expression pattern of CB1 receptors and their function in dorsal root ganglia and spinal cord in normal animals, during development and in animal models of inflammatory or neuropathic pain. Receptor expression is studied using immunohistochemistry and rtPCR while the function of CB1 receptor activation is assessed in cultured sensory neurons using calcium imaging or in situ using a skin nerve in vitro preparation. The aim of this study is to define the action of CB1 receptors in peripheral sensory neurons and to critical appraise their potential as analgesic drug targets.