Scientists at Johns Hopkins University have been working on a flexible button-sized disc that can be planted under the skin to deliver painkillers over a period of a month. It can be customized to treat other conditions like opiateaddiction.
Dr. Stuart Grossman, a professor of oncology, medicine and neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins and a pain management expert in Hopkins’ Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, saw how difficult it was for cancer patients in poor countries to get costly opiate painkillers. The prices were driven up by concerns that the opioids are often stolen, abused or not taken according to the prescription. Together with his colleagues, he developed a solution similar to Norplant where rods that gradually release contraceptives are inserted under the skin. In this case, the plastic disc delivers hydromorphone, a more potent form of heroin. The disc could be made wider to release drugs for a longer time or thicker to provide higher doses. They aim to produce the implants at about $50 a month, which is almost the same as the cost for cheap morphine pills.
Dr. Nathaniel Katz, director of the Program on Opioid Risk Management at Tufts Health Care Institute, welcomed the recent development. Some patients like those who are fearful of an overdose or those living with a drug abuser may benefit from having an implantable device delivering consistent doses of drugs. It could also be used to deliver methadone and buprenorphine, drugs that have been approved to treat opiate addiction. Dr. Michael Fingerhood, an associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University, pointed out that the disc could be used to treat pain problems in opiate addicts as well.
Grossman patented the device, which will undergo a clinical trial run by Dr Suzanne Nesbit, a clinical pharmacy specialist in pain management and research associate at Hopkins oncology department. The trial will be conducted in the Philippines, Singapore and East Baltimore. If all goes well, the implant could be available by next year.