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High hopes for cannabis copycat

AstraZeneca is developing new painkilling drugs which have the same effect in the body as cannabis. The drugs produce their anaesthetising effects for a long time, and do not lose their effectiveness when taken repeatedly, unlike the common pain reliever morphine.

The company gave the news as it updated investors on its early-stage drug development. After a series of setbacks with new drugs, the company said it could be producing two new potential drugs every year.

The new painkiller drugs act on cannabinoid receptors in the body - the same receptors that mediate the effects of cannabis. However, such drugs have caused side-effects in the central nervous system in the past. AstraZeneca said it had designed new types of drugs that acted on the nerves in the body but not in the brain.

Jan Lundberg, the head of drug discovery at the Anglo-Swedish group, said: "Our most advanced compounds show excellent analgesic properties in both inflammatory and neuropathic pain without visible side-effects in animal studies." However, they have not yet been tested in humans. It also said that its blood-thinning drug Exanta - which was not approved for sale by regulators last year, contributing to a fall in the company’s share price - had shown the ability to prevent heart disease in mice.

Analysts were unimpressed, however, and the firm’s shares fell 10p to £26.47 yesterday.

In a speech at a medical conference, Sir Tom McKillop, AstraZeneca’s outgoing chief executive, delivered a blistering attack yesterday on European regulators and their impact on the pharmaceutical industry. "An incredibly complex system of regulatory and reimbursement practices has created a whole series of obstacles to the introduction of new products, holding them up on average by over a year," he said at the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Stockholm.

He said these problems had led to research and development moving out of Europe and going to the United States and now the far east. "Up until the 1990s Europe’s laboratories discovered eight out of 10 of the top-selling new medicines," he said. "Now eight out of 10 come from US labs. We must decide if we want to continue to be a leading player in pharmaceutical innovation or step aside and let others take over the job."

Source: Heather Tomlinson, The Guardian, Friday September 9, 2005

published Saturday 17 September 2005 02:38

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