JUN 12, 2019 7:58 AM PDT

Sustainable Production of Opiate Antidotes

WRITTEN BY: Nouran Amin

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, an estimated 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. The skyrocketing of opiate overdoses may be largely due to the high cost of antidotes like NARCAN®--that prevent many first responders from retrieving lifesaving antidotes when needed the most.

Now, researchers at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center were encouraged to seek sustainable methods of producing lifesaving opiate antidotes at reduced cost. The new method involves the production of compounds using a microorganism found in waste streams and associated with the processing of opium poppy.

The essence of what is known as “green chemistry” holds the potential of creating new drugs at a reduced cost with less harmful waste—and in this case the cost of antidote drug development without the need of too much chemicals.

Learn more about green chemistry:

Details of the drug development were described in the paper "Enzyme morphinan N-demethylase for more sustainable opiate processing" and published in the journal Nature Sustainability.

"Enzymes perform reactions at efficiencies that surpass synthetic chemistry, thereby reducing the cost and impact of drug production on the environment. We work now to optimize production levels of the enzyme to a scale sufficient for industrial processes. Greener manufacturing would make a difference in people's lives," said Megan Augustin, lead author and research associate in the Kutchan lab at the Danforth Center.

Essentially, naturally occurring opiates are produced in poppy species— like morphine and the baine. However, current methods of opiate conversion to pain killers result in a reaction called N-demethylation that are based on noxious reagents that produce harmful waste.

Therefore, the study identified a unique sustainable method of opiate production that is based on enzymes rather than ‘chemicals’. These enzymes can be provided by microorganisms that can be metabolized into unique compounds in their environment.

Source: Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

About the Author
  • Nouran is a scientist, educator, and life-long learner with a passion for making science more communicable. When not busy in the lab isolating blood macrophages, she enjoys writing on various STEM topics.
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