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New non-addictive PTSD drug could reach market

Norman Transcript - 11/28/2023

Nov. 28—A drug being tested at the University of Oklahoma is proving to decrease symptoms related to post traumatic stress disorder.

Kelly Standifer, professor and chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the OU College of Pharmacy, said the drug, PPL-138, was developed by Phoenix PharmaLabs Inc. is non-addictive.

"We're doing month-long treatments with this drug, looking at its ability to reduce hyperalgesia, which is increased pain, sensitivity and anxiety levels, after exposing these animals to traumatic stress," Standifer said.

Standifer said she has worked with the PTSD model for over 10 years. She said the drug is similar to buprenorphine, which is used to treat pain and opioid dependence.

Panini Patankar, research assistant and second-year doctoral student in psychopharmacology, said the best medications currently on the market only treat patients with up to 30% efficacy. He said treating PTSD can be difficult, as many experience different diagnoses.

"Most war veterans suffering from brain injuries also experience PTSD, which is really quite a debilitating condition," Patankar said. "For pain, we used to prescribe morphine, and we still prescribe morphine, which has a lot of addiction potential."

He said this new drug does not "hijack" the reward system in the brains of rats, on which it was tested.

"We induce PTSD in rats, which is quite difficult, but the results have been encouraging so far," he said. "I can actually see the difference in the rats right now, and I know this will be in the market and will improve the lives of people."

He said his team believes it has potential to become a game changer for those suffering from PTSD.

Standifer said if regulators deem the drug is safe, scientists can start clinical trials with PTSD patients within five years.

OU is working alongside PharmaLabs Inc. and Florida Atlantic University to commercialize PPL-138.

Gina McMillen, director of the Office of Technology Commercialization for OU Health Sciences, said Standifer reached out to her to talk about commercialization.

"We are proud to be a resource for OU faculty, staff and graduate students interested in commercialization of intellectual property resulting from their novel research findings," McMillen said.

Standifer said PPL-138 can also treat individuals with alcohol use disorder.

"What we found is that it blocks alcohol intake boosted by stress and anxiety from trauma that we induce with our animal model," Standifer said. "Just like people, if you subject a number of animals to this trauma, some of them are really susceptible and show signs of anxiety and others don't show any increased anxiety at all."

She said the rats that demonstrated increased anxiety were more likely to drink alcohol, and that introduction of the drug decreased anxiety, as well as alcohol intake.

"This drug primarily works to treat those susceptible animals, as well as people who come back from war or experience sexual assault or anything else that could be diagnosed as PTSD," Standifer said.

Brian King covers education and politics for The Transcript. Reach him at bking@normantranscript.com.

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