A new drug treatment has been found to be effective again chronic pain caused by nerve damage, also known as neuropathic pain, in patients who have had shingles.
It is estimated that around 19,000 people in the UK get shingles every year, most of them aged over 50.
The illness is caused by a dormant viral infection of a nerve is reactivated, resulting in a painful rash.
In most cases the rash lasts a few weeks, but in some cases the permanent nerve damage caused by the virus results in chronic neuropathic pain called post- herpetic neuralgia. Around one in 10 people with shingles experience this and, once established, it usually causes life-long suffering.
In a study using the new drug EMA401 involving 183 patients in six countries it was found to reduce pain and did not cause any serious side effects. The findings are published in the Lancet.
Lead author of the study, Professor Andrew Rice, from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London, said “Conventional painkillers don’t tend to help people with severe chronic neuropathic pain and most available treatments have modest efficacy and/or are limited by side effects. This new drug will ultimately offer hope for patients who are not helped by current treatments.”
The study, a phase 2 trial compared EMA401 with a placebo. Fifty eight per cent of participants taking the drug found it effective, reducing pain by at least 30 per cent.
Spinifex Pharmaceuticals, which owns the drug, now plans to conduct a larger trial, possibly testing higher doses of the drug for longer periods of time.
The researchers hope that the drug might also be effective against other causes of neuropathic pain, such as diabetes, HIV, nerve injury and cancer chemotherapy, as it targets a mechanism not targeted by any existing therapies and has fewer side effects.
As a sufferer of several bouts of shingles I am taking a keen interest in the progress of this research.
by Tina Foster