Preclinical Characterization and Development on NAQ as a Mu Opioid Receptor Partial Agonist for Opioid Use Disorder Treatment


ACS Pharmacology & Translational Science, 5(11), 1197–1209


Pagare, P. P., Obeng, S., Huang, B., Marcus, M. M., Nicholson, K. L., Townsend, A. E., Banks, M. L., & Zhang, Y.



Mu opioid receptor (MOR) selective antagonists and partial agonists have clinical utility for the treatment of opioid use disorders (OUDs). However, the development of many has suffered due to their poor pharmacokinetic properties and/or rapid metabolism. Our recent efforts to identify MOR modulators have provided 17-cyclopropylmethyl-3,14β-dihydroxy-4,5α-epoxy-6α- (isoquinoline-3-carboxamido)morphinan (NAQ), a low-efficacy partial agonist, that showed sub-nanomolar binding affinity to the MOR (Ki 0.6 nM) with selectivity over the delta opioid receptor (δ/μ 241) and the kappa opioid receptor (κ/μ 48). Its potent inhibition of the analgesic effect of morphine (AD50 0.46 mg/kg) and precipitation of significantly less withdrawal symptoms even at 100-fold greater dose than naloxone represents a promising molecule for further development as a novel OUD therapeutic agent. Therefore, further in vitro and in vivo characterization of its pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics properties was conducted to fully understand its pharmaceutical profile. NAQ showed favorable in vitro ADMET properties and no off-target binding to several classes of GPCRs, enzymes, and ion channels. Following intravenous administration, 1 mg/kg dose of NAQ showed a similar in vivo pharmacokinetic profile to naloxone; however, orally administered 10 mg/kg NAQ demonstrated significantly improved oral bioavailability over both naloxone and naltrexone. Abuse liability assessment of NAQ in rats demonstrated that NAQ functioned as a less potent reinforcer than heroin. Chronic 5 day NAQ pretreatment decreased heroin self-administration in a heroin-vs-food choice procedure similar to the clinically used MOR partial agonist buprenorphine. Taken together, these studies provide evidence supporting NAQ as a promising lead to develop novel OUD therapeutics.

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