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Pharma ready to share if it helps beat the opioid crisis

September 18, 2017
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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On Monday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced that pharmaceutical manufacturers, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are going to work collaboratively on getting new pharmaceutical products to market—products to treat opioid addiction as well as non-addictive medications to treat pain. Public-private partnerships such as this were part of the White House opioid commission’s recent recommendations.

There was unanimous agreement from the federal agencies and the 17 pharmaceutical companies present at the meeting in New Jersey to work collaboratively and share information. Christie leads the opioid commission, and Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, was also present to represent the White House.

Christie indicated that FDA will follow its review process in approving any new drug products, but also said the urgency of the opioid crisis might call for solutions to speed up the timeline. FDA demonstrated “the spirit to be willing to entertain those changes,” he said at the conference.

In a practical sense, NIH will serve as the fair-broker clearinghouse of information among the drug developers—essentially bringing them out of their competitive silos to build on scientific solutions. Products could include new choices for medication assisted treatment for those with opioid use disorders as well as non-addictive drugs for pain. There are about 40 compounds in the pipeline, according to Christie.

“Solutions will come much faster after today,” he said.

Francis Collins, director of NIH, said better overdose medications are also needed to reverse the effects of fentanyl and carfentanil.

Such public-private partnerships aimed at an urgent health need are not unprecedented, but Collins said it will take some time to formulate the solutions that can be implemented in everyday medicine.

“Make no mistake. This is hard,” Collins said. “If we had found an easy way to treat opioid addiction, that would have happened already. If we had found an easy way to develop alternatives to opioids that were just as potent but weren’t addictive, that would have happened already.”