Combatting the Opioid Crisis with Cell Therapies for Chronic Back Pain

It’s no secret that opioid addiction is at an all-time high and represents a major public health threat. The CDC estimates that opioid addiction resulted in a record 72,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017 alone. What strikes me as one of the most tragic parts of this narrative is that so many of these deaths were people who became addicted to opioids after simply seeking relief from chronic pain through prescribed drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone or methadone. I recently ran across the sobering statistic that patients suffering from chronic low back pain, such as degenerative disc disease (DDD), account for nearly 60% of prescription opioid usage in the U.S.

It’s encouraging to see that the U.S. government has recognized this threat and declared drug addiction and opioid use a Nationwide Public Health Emergency, with the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act to promote opioid recovery and treatment being signed into law just last week. These are certainly important first steps, as are some regional attempts at curbing the opioid epidemic.

However, our goal at DiscGenics is to provide a cell therapy option that eliminates the need for sufferers of chronic low back pain to turn to opioids in the first place. We are developing an injectable disc cell therapy (IDCT) that has the potential to disrupt the way chronic back pain is treated. IDCT is an allogeneic, non-surgical cell therapy, meaning it’s an injectable treatment that is produced from donor tissue (as opposed to the patient’s own) and available off-the-shelf. Because IDCT is manufactured from cells that are native to the intervertebral disc, we have a therapy that is ideally suited for use in patients with DDD. Preclinical animal studies have shown that IDCT has the ability to reduce inflammation and regenerate new disc tissue to restore disc height in painful, degenerated discs. If IDCT demonstrates similar results in humans, the outcome could be reduced pain and disability, potentially eliminating the need for opioid usage as a pain reliever from the get-go.

I believe cell-based therapies, like IDCT, are going to become an increasingly important player in the treatment of chronic pain conditions. Their potential to offer pain physicians a novel therapeutic strategy for patients that no longer involves a prescription to opioids is immense. And as a result, it is incumbent upon us in the industry to continue our efforts to validate the benefit of these technologies in clinical use.

Earlier this year, DiscGenics commenced clinical evaluation of IDCT in a 60-subject, first-in-human, U.S. clinical trial to treat patients with mild-to-moderate DDD. Patient enrollment is currently underway. If you, or someone you know, have single-level DDD and are looking for an alternative treatment option to opioids, I invite you to visit for more information about the study, including inclusion and exclusion criteria, as well as a list of participating sites.