New company Afferent Pharmaceuticals is hoping it will be the first off the block with a new kind of treatment for chronic pain after licensing Roche’s P2X3 receptor programme.

More than 270 million people worldwide suffer from chronic pain with little recent success in identifying novel mechanisms for managing and treating pain. Opioids, antiepileptic drugs and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Cox-2 inhibitors, all have extensive documented drawbacks to their use in terms of safety, efficacy, tolerability and addiction.

The P2X3 receptor approach represents a novel biological pathway, the companies say; P2X3-containing receptors are highly specific to nerve fibres that transmit the sensations of pain and discomfort in response to inflammation or injury, particularly in chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis, back pain and neuropathy. With such a high degree of specificity, there is a lower likelihood of adverse events in the brain or cardiovascular tissues, effects that have been limiting factors for many existing drugs.

“Our preclinical and clinical data on this programme suggest a very compelling first-in-class, orally-delivered product,” comments Anthony Ford, chief scientific officer at Afferent and former vice president of research at Roche, where he has driven the P2X3 programme over the past decade.

Roche’s Dan Zabrowski, global head of partnering, says investing the programme, related assets and intellectual property in Afferent “provides the ideal focussed vehicle to maximise the opportunity”. It is collaborating on the launch of Afferent and to advance the P2X3 programme.

Afferent, which has been co-founded by Ford, Pappas Ventures, and Third Rock Ventures, hopes to initiate efficacy testing in the first half of 2010 with its lead compound AF-219 in several different indications.