IU School of Medicine wins $12.3M grant to study opioid withdrawal treatment

Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine have won a $12.3 million federal grant to study medications that could help treat opioid withdrawal.

The medical school said Thursday it is testing the use of tezampanel, an experimental drug for migraines developed by Indianapolis-based drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co., to treat opioid withdrawal syndrome and other addictions and mental illnesses. The grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse is supporting the project.

“The goal is to help psychiatric patients get breakthrough medications more rapidly than what traditional mechanisms have allowed,” said Dr. Andrew Chambers, psychiatrist and neuroscientist in the IU School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry, in a written statement.

The project is happening in partnership with Seattle-based biotech Proniras Corp., which licensed the drug from Lilly in 2018.

The two organizations will test tezampanel as a “potential major advance” in the addiction psychiatry treatment, the medical school said in its announcement. The first $2 million stage of the project, conducted over the next two years, will pursue laboratory characterization of tezampanel to test its use in preclinical models of opioid withdrawal and in combination with opioid and benzodiazepine drugs commonly associated with opioid addictions and lethal overdoses.

“This drug has very interesting activity in the glutamate neurotransmitter system of the brain, which operates as a sort of common currency of information processing that has gone wrong in both addiction and mental illness,” Proniras co-founder Christopher Toombs said in the announcement.

If the preclinical work succeeds in showing the drug is safe and effective and wins regulatory approval to advance the program, the two organizations move the project to the second, $10 million stage.

In this second, three-year stage, the IU School of Medicine team will both conduct a clinical trial by administering tezampanel in people who are suffering with opioid addiction.

The project will operate under a consortium of scientists in addiction psychiatry at the University of New Mexico, University of Cincinnati and Yale University, who will test medication under different clinical conditions.

“We have a profound need for new and effective treatment for addiction and co-morbid psychiatric conditions,” said Dr. Thomas McAllister, chair of the IU School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry, in a written statement. “We believe this grant represents an exciting opportunity to move the field of addiction psychiatry treatment forward in an impactful way.”

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