The treatment called tanezumab, which inhibits nerve activity, has been found to aid one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. Scientists say it could bring long-term relief to a third of those in agony every day. Lead researcher Dr John Markman, of the University of Rochester, New York state, said: “This demonstration of efficacy is a major breakthrough in the global search to develop non-opioid treatments for chronic pain.
“There were also improvements in function linked to the reduction in pain severity.”
Researchers found certain proteins in the bloodstream heighten the sensitivity of cells in the nervous system to pain. One of these proteins, called nerve growth factor (NGF), could explain why some people experience more intense pain than others. Tanezumab, an antibody copied by scientists which is delivered under the skin, is known to inhibit nerve activity and NGF.
The team tested their new therapy on back pain patients at nearly 200 sites across eight countries in North America, Europe and Asia.
Those patients who were considered to be “difficult-to-treat” were already on at least three different pain medications, including opioids.
Opioids and other non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can have serious side effects, including joint problems.
They found a single dose of tanezumab every two months was enough to provide long-term relief and the chances of developing serious joint problems were low, even though there is a risk with this type of drug.
Dr Markman said: “In the future, clinicians may have to weigh the different risks of lumbar fusion surgery, chronic opioid use, or NSAIDs against the unique risks of a rare but rapidly progressive form of joint problem associated with blocking nerve growth factor.”
Lower back pain affects one in 10 worldwide, and causes more disabilities than any other condition. Around 20 percent of people who suffer from lower back pain in the UK will seek treatment, costing the NHS £1billion a year. It has warned referrals for spinal surgery are on the rise, and a growing number are waiting more than 18 weeks from referral to treatment.