Pharma, Pharma, Pharma

MedPage Today reports on a recent NIH, NIDA, HHS press briefing.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar, JD, NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, and Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) pitched the president’s opioid initiative to reporters during a press briefing on Wednesday afternoon.

So, how did they describe their priorities?

  • Improve understanding of the “neurobiology of pain and to locate new drug targets.” (They note that Collins said “private industry is eager to leverage” this knowledge.
  • Testing for biomarkers for pain that would guide treatment.
  • To “create public-private partnerships and incentivize industry to come up with medications for opioid use disorder that don’t need to be taken every day” because “half of all patients relapse in 6 months.”
  • “partnering with pharmaceuticals for the development of alternative formulation devices… of naloxone or another antagonists”
  • Developing opioid vaccines.

Industry dollars part of the plan

That sounds like a lot of opportunities for new patents.

Is the industry interested in this plan?

At least 33 companies have shown interest in partnering with the NIH, said Collins, and a “scientific work plan” that involves an “unprecedented” level of information sharing is underway.

He also spoke of efforts to set up a clinical trial network, so that new treatments could be quickly tested.

“All of that seems to have received wide enthusiasm from both the public and the private sectors. It is now a matter of figuring out how we would put the funding and the governance together,” Collins said.

This prompted Keith Humphreys to tweet:


And the head of the Academy of Integrative Pain Management to tweet this:

Best practices (“best” for who?)

The story added this:

Azar reiterated President Trump’s goal of cutting legal opioid prescriptions by one-third in three years, and ensuring that all federal programs operate according to best practices when it comes to opioids.

Of course, this begs questions about the role of industry dollars shaping those “best” practices.

These concerns are heightened by the recent coverage of NIAAA and NIH offering the beverage alcohol industry an opportunity to invest in research on the grounds that the findings would benefit the industry before the research began.

The death penalty

The president’s inclusion of the death penalty for big drug dealers came up in the briefing.

Asked about the president’s repeated mentions of capital punishment for drug traffickers, Azar called it one piece of a “comprehensive plan.”