Well, I’m still here at the American Pain Society (APS) Meeting in lovely Tampa Fl and once again I never got around to blogging the conference. This time internet access was no problem, I’ve got it everywhere, but time has not allowed for any posts. This meeting is a bit odd for a basic scientist. There is very little new science here but there is a good deal of socializing and deal making to be done. One of the main reasons is that this is essentially a corporate meeting. All the Big Pharma entities are here touting there latest trials and trying to convince the physicians to write scrips for their compounds. I’m fine with that. Much of what they show is evidence based (rather than trying to get someone to write scrips based on taking them to some fab seats at a ball game) and there are really some nice new treatments out there for groups of patients that haven’t been helped much by other therapies. It also appears that there is a big push to create new formulations for COX-2 selective inhibitors to make them safer. Some of the combos are pretty interesting and I hope they find some success when their safety trials ramp up. Another thing I’ve noticed is that if you can get your drug some bioavailability in patch form then you’ll be pumping out patches at your wonderdrug factory. This is good news, I think. Local actions for drugs can avoid psychotropic side effects and give you a degree of specificity that you just cannot get with P.O dosing. If I still had my pain issues I’d be looking to try some patches (thankfully I haven’t had to worry about this so much lately).
So, PK/PD and new formulations are interesting and all, but I’m a preclinical kind of guy so what’s going on here at APS?
As I said above, not a whole lot, and I find this pretty disappointing. There were a few good TRP channel sessions and a nice dinner on clinical applications (watch out for a new paper on TRPs and cold sensation, should make a big splash). You cannot have a pain meeting, after all, without going heavy on the TRPs. There was a great session on LTP in pain pathways (which is kind of my thing) but it was aimed largely at the clinical people. This was actually nice to see because I think this is an area that lots of clinicians don’t get (not the easiest thing to understand without a heavy basic neuro training) and the presenters did a great job of showing the animal and human data side by side to convince the clinicians and corporate types that these pathways are legit targets for treating intractable chronic pain. There is a preclinical back pain session still to come today that I am also looking forward to. Back pain is obviously a huge problem, but, surprisingly, there are few preclinical models for the condition and we don’t know too much about the underlying pathology. We’ll see if there has been some headway…
So what exactly have I been doing? I’ve been honing my skills in getting my message out to new, potential sources of funding (yes, I’ve been courting the dark-side). You see, pain pharmaceuticals is big business and (especially when NIH funding is tight) it is useful to take advantage of this fact to pull in some funding for your laboratory from biotechs and Big Pharma. I’ve spent a fair amount of time talking to people about what we do in the lab trying to get some feelers out for interest in our projects from a clinical development perspective. I’m happy to report that I have a little stack of business cards to get in contact with some people that didn’t want to blabber on too much within ear-shot of the company next door. We’ll see how this turns out and if there are any opportunities out there for my lab. It feels a bit strange to think of going this route, however, while we have a set of basic science goals (NIH grants), the point of this work is to get targets into development and get drugs into humans who will hopefully get some improvement in quality of life. As it stands today, the road to putting a compound into the clinic is via Pharma so I think its a GoodThing to partner up as we start moving toward target validation and pre-clinical development.
I’ve also spent a lot of time schmoozing with the colleagues I didn’t see in Cayman. To wrap up all these conversations in one sentence: People are getting very concerned about the funding crisis and its impact on their ability to hold onto a job. A few universities have put together “pain center” type programs to achieve the all important “critical mass”. I cannot overemphasize how many times I have heard those two words this week. I happen to have come from a place (the postdoc location) considered to have such “critical mass” and I moved to another place (the tenure track locale) that has hit on these key words. I have been told over and over again how lucky I am. Well, I’m happy to have been where I was and happy to be where I am but, frankly, I’m not getting this “critical mass” thing. It is a real pleasure to work with colleagues that are in the same field and when it comes time to review grants before they leave the institution the critical eyes are always a GoodThing. You also tend to have access to more resources because subfield selective equipment (in my case expensive behavioral items) is in place and ready for use. On the other hand, “critical mass” can create a form of insularity that I am not particularly comfortable with. I try to combat this by spending a lot of time in seminars outside my area and getting to know colleagues that do things that I know little or nothing about. In my case, at least, this always gives me a new perspective on what I’m doing and how we might be able to do it better. It can also lead to collaborations and funding opportunities that you’d never get if you spent too much time in “your center”. I also think that some people are perhaps overestimating the ability of a “critical mass” to actually pull in funding. Many of these centers are new and while we are working our tails off to achieve success I’ve yet to see any numbers that indicate that “critical mass” helps bring in the NIH dollars in my particular subfield. I suppose that time will tell in this regard but I think it would be a real shame to see the small islands get swallowed up by the growing continents.