Prisinzano earns Innovator Award for his work on drug dependence

LAWRENCE — Thomas Prisinzano, University of Kansas professor of medicinal chemistry, has earned the first Innovator Award from the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD).

America’s opioid addiction crisis kills thousands of people annually. Repeated use of opioids often leads to patient tolerance and addiction. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoses killed 63,632 Americans in 2016. Nearly two-thirds of these deaths involved a prescription or illicit opioid.

Opioid medications bind to mu opioid receptors in brain regions that regulate pain perception. The resulting pain relief and euphoric effects often become addictive to the patient and, over time, the patient will need increasingly higher dosages to achieve the same relief.

In 2007, Prisinzano discovered herkinorin, an opioid analgesic or narcotic pain reliever that shares properties with the natural product salvinorin A. This finding led to the development of mu opioid receptor-based agonists currently in clinical trials as analgesics with limited tolerance and dependence, constipation and life-threatening respiratory depression.

Established in 1929, the CPDD is the oldest and largest organization in the U.S. dedicated to advancing a scientific approach to substance use and addictive disorders. The Innovator Award recognizes researchers who have developed innovative approaches in basic science, clinical research or treatment and prevention science with potential for significant effects in the field of drug dependence.

Andrew Coop, professor and associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, is a CPDD leadership executive committee member and chair of its awards committee. Coop said Prisinzano and his work are emblematic of the Innovator Award.

“The CPDD Innovator Award was established to recognize a scientific breakthrough in the area of drug abuse, and it is fitting that Dr. Prisinzano was recognized as the inaugural recipient. His seminal discovery of unique opioid analgesics has the potential to significantly impact the opioid crisis and lead to safer nonaddicting painkillers,” Coop said.   

The KU School of Pharmacy researcher received the award June 11 during the Innovator Symposium at the CPDD 80th Annual Scientific Meeting in San Diego.

“I am truly humbled to be the inaugural recipient of this prestigious award from CPDD. This is a great recognition of the hard work from a talented team of postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and myself,” Prisinzano said.

Updated on: 08/14/2018