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Papers of the Week

Papers: 16 Dec 2023 - 22 Dec 2023


Itch (Phila)




Kappa opioid agonists in the treatment of itch: just scratching the surface?


Beck TC, Wilson EM, Wilkes E, Lee LW, Norris R, Valdebran M


Chronic pruritus is a debilitating condition affecting 23-44 million Americans. Recently, kappa opioid agonists (KOAs) have emerged as a novel class of potent antipruritic agents. In 2021, the Food and Drug Administration approved difelikefalin (Korsuva) for the treatment of moderate-to-severe pruritus associated with chronic kidney disease in adults undergoing hemodialysis. Difelikefalin is a potent, peripherally restricted KOA that is intravenously available. Although promising, difelikefalin is currently available as an intravenous composition only, limiting the scope of use. Oral formulations of difelikefalin did not meet the primary endpoint criteria in recent phase 2 clinical trials; however, additional clinical studies are ongoing. The future for KOAs in the treatment of pruritus is encouraging. Orally active pathway-biased KOAs, such as triazole 1.1, may serve as viable alternatives with broader applications. Extended-release compositions, such as the TP-2021 ProNeura subdermal implant, may circumvent the pharmacokinetic issues associated with peptide-based KOAs. Lastly, dual-acting kappa opioid receptor agonist/mu opioid receptor antagonists are orally bioavailable and may be useful in the treatment of various forms of chronic itch. In this review, we summarize the results of KOAs in clinical and preclinical trials and discuss future directions of drug development.