Updated on 5 December 2012
Treating others pain
When asked why pain interests her so much, she sais "For my second postdoc, I changed from the clinical pharmacokinetics, bioanalysis and drug metabolism field to the field of pain management. This field is of high importance to me because population surveys in many countries show that approximately 20 percent of people suffer from chronic pain. Additionally, on average only 30 percent of patients achieve at least 30 percent pain relief from currently available medications with tolerable side-effects. Hence, there is a very large unmet medical need that is driving research directed at producing a new generation of highly effective and well-tolerated analgesic agents to improve patient quality of life."
Despite a large collective global research effort over the past two decades on the pathobiology of chronic pain and on drug discovery programs in the pain therapeutics field, very few new analgesic drugs have reached the market. As many compounds have failed phase II clinical trials on efficacy grounds, this highlights the need for research to improve the ability of ‘preclinical pain models' to identify molecules that will be analgesic when progressed to clinical trials in patients with chronic pain. Addressing this hurdle is a major area of research focus in Professor Smith's Center at UQ.
QRxPharma and Spinifex are commercializing pain medicine based on Professor Smith's work. QRx Pharma has completed phase III clinical trials of MoxDuo for improved treatment of moderate to severe acute pain such as that which occurs post-operatively, and filed a New Drug Application with the United States FDA. The company hopes to receive notification of approval in mid-2013.
In August 2012, Spinifex Pharmaceuticals announced successful results of a phase IIa clinical trial of EMA401, a first-in-class, orally active, new pain therapeutic for the treatment of neuropathic pain. This clinical trial was a multi-center, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled design undertaken in 180 patients with post-herpetic neuralgia, a type of neuropathic pain that is notoriously difficult to treat. Patients were randomly assigned to either EMA401 (100 mg twice daily) or placebo treatment for four weeks. Patients on active treatment achieved clinically significant pain relief above placebo and EMA401 was well-tolerated.
Challenges she faces
Professor Smith feels that there are two major challenges that stand out. One is the on-going challenge of being a member of the small minority group of female professors in universities, a situation that has not improved in two decades. To address this challenge, Professor Smith believes that it will require affirmative action to be implemented for at least a decade. Another challenge for her is to secure investment for undertaking "killer experiments". "I addressed this in the late 1990's by securing angel investment for my IP that is currently being commercialized by QRxPharma. In the case of my IP being commercialized by Spinifex Pharmaceuticals, funding for the early "killer experiments" was secured by UniQuest from Australian venture capital firms in 2005."