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South Side Company Developing Non-Opioid Pain Relief

Sarah Boden
90.5 WESA
Knopp CEO Mike Bozik (second from left) stands in the Knopp lab with scientists Kelly Picchione (left,) Dave Mareska (second from right,) and Chuck Flentge.

In a matter of years, people with chronic conditions may not have to choose between pain relief and risking addiction.

Experts agree that over-prescription of medications like oxycodone has been one of the main drivers of the current opioid epidemic.

The South Side’s Knopp Bioscience said over the next half decade, it will develop a pharmaceutical to regulate nerve cells, aimed at stopping excessive and erratic firing of pain signals. While opioids simply mask pain, focusing on nerve cells stops abnormal responses throughout the nervous system.

“In the long-term, if these are as effective as we think, as we hope they’re going to be, then you won’t need opioids,” said Knopp CEO Mike Bozik. “Or certainly a large segment of people won’t need opioids for chronic pain relief.”

This might benefit patients who are suffering from pain associated with conditions like diabetes and HIV, as well as injuries and surgery.  

This research is being funded by an $8 million from the National Institutes of Health’s Helping to End Addiction Long-term initiative. The HEAL Initiative is funding research to improve chronic pain treatments and curb the rate of opioid use disorder and overdose.

A report released last month from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency found that the number of overdose deaths in southwestern Pennsylvania fell by 41 percent from 2017 to 2018.

This follows local trends: preliminary data from the Allegheny County Medical Examiner shows that opioid-related fatalities fell by at least 36 percent in 2018, compared to 2017.

Public health officials say this decline is likely due to distribution of naloxone, the medication that can revive someone from an opioid overdose. While opioid prescription rates have decreased, many opioid-related fatalities are linked to illicit substances such as heroin and fentanyl.

Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corporation board president Tom Petzinger is on the board of Knopp Biosciences.