FDA Approves New Drug Implant

By Pat Anson, Editor

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of a new drug implant for the treatment of opioid addiction.  Probuphine is the first implant of its kind approved by the agency and could potentially be a game changer for other medical conditions such as chronic pain that require steady doses of medication around-the-clock.

Probuphine is designed to be inserted into the arm beneath the skin, where it delivers a low dose of burprenorphine directly into the bloodstream for up to six months.  

Buprenorphine is an opioid itself, but when combined with naloxone, the medication reduces cravings for opioids. Until now the drug has only been available as a pill or film strips placed under the tongue.

For many years buprenorphine was sold exclusively under the brand name Suboxone, but several pharmaceutical companies have entered the lucrative addiction treatment market and now make versions of their own. As many as 2.3 million people who are dependent on opioid pain medication or heroin could benefit from buprenorphine treatment,

FDA approval was a major win Braeburn Pharmaceuticals and its partner, Titan Pharmaceuticals (OTC: TTNP), which holds the rights to the implant technology. Titan and Braeburn were stunned in 2013 when the FDA denied approval of the implant and asked for new clinical studies proving Probuphine’s effectiveness.  

Results from a recent Phase III study showed that over 85% of the patients who had the implant abstained from using illicit opioids for six months, compared to about 72% of patients who used buprenorphine film strips that were taken daily.

"Opioid abuse and addiction have taken a devastating toll on American families. We must do everything we can to make new, innovative treatment options available that can help patients regain control over their lives,” said FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, MD. “Today’s approval provides the first-ever implantable option to support patients’ efforts to maintain treatment as part of their overall recovery program.”

Expanding the availability of addiction treatment is a major goal of the Obama administration. The White House has asked Congress for an additional $1.1 billion to fight opioid abuse, with much of the money earmarked for addiction treatment. The administration has also proposed doubling the number of patients that doctors can treat with buprenorphine from 100 to 200.

Buprenorphine can be abused and is a popular street drug that is used to get high or to ease withdrawal pains from illegal opioids such as heroin. An implant will be much more difficult to abuse, since it can’t be crushed or liquefied for snorting or injecting. It’s also less likely to be diverted.

Probuphine is expected to cost about $1,000 a month. It consists of four, one-inch-long rods that are implanted under the skin on the inside of the upper arm. Administering Probuphine will require special training because it must be surgically inserted and removed.

The most common side effects are pain at the implant site, as well as itching, redness, headache, depression, constipation, nausea, vomiting, back pain, toothache and oral pain. The FDA is requiring post-marketing studies to establish the safety and effectiveness of the implants.

Probuphine was developed using a patented implant technology called ProNeura, which is designed to provide continuous levels of medication in the blood. Titan is also developing implants to treat Parkinson’s disease and hypothyroidism, and its CEO told Pain News Network that ProNeura could also potentially be used to deliver pain medication.

“Clinical studies will need to be done to establish the ability, but the drug levels can certainly be delivered that are going to be beneficial for treating chronic pain,” said Titan CEO and President Sunil Bhonsle. “There are many applications for this technology and I think the medical community is now more in tune with looking at long-term delivery technology in the chronic disease setting.”

“It is part of our plan to move into pain because pain and opioid addiction are so interconnected and we think there are ways, by treating patients with a less abuse-able formulation, you could actually help alleviate the addiction problem,” Behshad Sheldon, President and CEO of Braeburn, told PNN in an earlier interview.