UK patients suffering from severe chronic pain have been given a new treatment option in the form of Gruenenthal's novel painkiller Palexia SR, which has just been launched throughout the country.

Palexia SR (tapentadol prolonged release) is the first in a new class of centrally acting analgesics called MOR-NRI, which work through _-opioid receptor (MOR) agonism and noradrenaline reuptake inhibition (NRI).

According the the firm, which is headquartered in Aachen, Germany, Phase III clinical trials have clearly demonstrated the drug's potential, showing that its effectiveness is on par with that of standard treatment oxycodone CR. 

But, importantly, Palexia SR seems to fare better on gastrointestinal side effects, including constipation, nausea and vomiting, with significantly fewer discontinuations in patients taking the drug (43.5%) compared with oxycodone CR (61.7%).  

In addition, Patients were able to stick to Palexia SR therapy for a median of 118 days versus just 39 days with oxycodone SR, and it scored better on quality of life outcomes too, Gruenenthal noted.

Economic impact

It is estimated that around 20% of adults in the UK suffer from chronic pain, and the impact on the economy is huge. Back pain alone is costs the economy £12.3 billion per year, which is equivalent to nearly one fifth of the NHS' yearly budget. 

But despite its high prevalence doctors remain unsatisfied with current treatment options. Gruenenthal points to recent independent market research with 450 GPs in the UK which showed that more than a quarter said they were either ‘not at all’ or ‘not very’ satisfied with available treatments for severe chronic pain, which it says suggests an unmet treatment need.

And earlier this year the Patients Association called on the government to create a clear care pathway for chronic pain services throughout the NHS, after a survey of more than 4,000 patients revealed significant shortcomings in care. 

It's survey revealed that there is only one pain specialist available for every 32,000 sufferers, that 57% of patients unsure about potential side effects of pain medication, and that only a quarter of chronic pain sufferers had been referred to a pain specialist.

Professor Richard Langford, a consultant in anaesthesia and pain medicine at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, has welcomed the launch of Palexia, which, he notes, "represents a significant advance which can enable a greater proportion of patients with chronic pain to stay on treatment for as long as is required; consequently improving their quality of life".