New Life for a Cancer Drug That Reprograms Pain Pathways to Treat Chronic Pain

Chronic pain associated with nerve injury and chronic bone pain from metastatic cancer are unmet medical needs. A new study led by Wolfgang Liedtke, MD, PhD, an adjunct professor of molecular pathobiology at NYU Dentistry, identified the compound kenpaullone as a promising treatment that could be repurposed to alleviate pain. Kenpaullone functioned as an analgesic in preclinical models of pain in a new study published in Nature Communications.

“New drugs and other therapies against chronic pain need to be safe, i.e., the fewer side effects the better. It is especially important that they be non-addictive and non-sedative, while being effective against nerve injury pain and cancer pain, preferably with a minimal time to official approval,” said Dr. Liedtke, who practiced pain medicine and conducted pain research for the last 17 years at Duke University Medical Center and, as of April 2021, is the Chair of Neurology, Global Scientific Development Council, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.

“Because chronic pain, like many chronic diseases, has an important root in genetic switches being reprogrammed in a bad way, a disease modifying treatment for chronic pain should reset the genetic switches, not just cover up the pain, as with opioid and aspirin/Tylenol-like painkillers,” Dr. Liedtke added.

Dr. Liedtke's Duke team, jointly with colleagues from UC Irvine, tackled this problem by surveying the "junkyard of cancer drugs" that might have the potential to be repurposed. They tested 1,057 compounds contained in two Compound Libraries of the National Cancer Institute, and selected kenpaullone for in-depth work-up owing to its strong record of protecting neurons in multiple experimental models.

Read more about Dr. Liedtke’s research