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OU researches PTSD drug to treat connected conditions like anxiety, alcohol use disorder

The OU College of Pharmacy.
University of Oklahoma
The OU College of Pharmacy.

University of Oklahoma researchers are taking part in trials for a drug that could help treat PTSD symptoms, and they say current findings are promising.

The drug is called PPL-138, and it is similar to buprenorphine, which is used to treat opioid use disorders. It appears to more effectively relieve pain and stress-induced anxiety while managing cravings for alcohol, based on preclinical trials. The drug is also not addictive.

OU College of Pharmacy professor Kelly Standifer is leading the university’s portion of the trial. The U.S. Department of Defense is funding her collaborative research with Florida Atlantic University and the development of the drug by Phoenix PharmaLabs.

Seven out of every 100 veterans will experience PTSD in their lifetime, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The Department of Defense supports research on conditions like it because of this impact.

Standifer said only two drugs are FDA-approved for PTSD treatment, and they are in a class called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. She said this drug type doesn’t have much of an effect on pain, which is a condition that often occurs with PTSD, and the FDA-approved drugs only work for about 30% of patients.

“This would be a completely different drug class to add to that market,” Standifer said.

OU is currently operating on a trial grant, and Standifer said it should finish its initial tests by May or June. If the program continues to yield positive results, it could apply for a bigger grant to test the drug.

Although trials are still in the early stages, Standifer said working on treatments like this is why people get into research in the first place.

“It makes you feel like you're doing something really worthwhile if you can push something along closer to solving such a widespread problem as that,” Standifer said. “Especially in this state. There's so many people in the state associated with military service, and then the Murrah building bombing. You've still got first responders who are suffering ill effects from trauma associated with dealing with that.”

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Jillian Taylor has been StateImpact Oklahoma's health reporter since August 2023.
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