Tackling the opioid crisis with bioelectronics: interview

By December 13, 2017

America is currently experiencing one of the worst opioid epidemics in history, and the Midwest is no stranger to this.

In Ohio, morgues are filling up so quickly that body must now be stored in refrigerated trailers as a temporary solution as these deaths increase at an uncontrollable rate.

This has not only impacted those afflicted with this crippling addition, but also many other areas within society and government, such as the number of children submitted to foster care, which sources report is also reaching a breaking point. In Ohio alone, the crisis is costing the state a devastating $8.8 billion a year. Despite the president declaring a health emergency, the problem shows no signs of slowing down.

Will Rosellini

Will Rosellini

However, thanks to a growing number of innovative minds and startups, it looks like there might be hope. One startup which sees growing potential in their technology to help tackle the crisis is Nexeon, a bioelectronics company focused on the development and delivery of therapeutic solutions for patients, healthcare professionals, and healthcare systems.

To get a better understanding of how their technology can help, we sat down with Will Rosellini, the chairman and CEO of Nexeon.

How can bioelectronics be used to tackle the opioid crisis that America is currently suffering from?

Bioelectronics present two paths for tackling the opioid crisis.  The first, which has been around for several years, is in the treatment of pain itself. Spinal cord stimulators and other similar devices present alternative treatment paradigms to treat chronic pain without the addictive side effects of Opioids.  

The devices essentially act as a white noise generator that saturates the pain signal so that it doesn’t reach the brain. This is critical because often times after an injury, after the structural problem is healed, chronic pain of the nervous system remains.  In these cases, pain becomes the ailment.   

The other opportunity for bioelectronics is in the actual treatment of existing opioid addiction. Recent advances are exploring the ability to rewire pathways in the brain to help overcome both the addiction to opioids and the withdrawal symptoms when quitting.   

These solutions tap into various nervous system conduits that can reduce a patient’s Clinical Opioid Withdrawal Score (COWS) and allow a patient to transition to non-opioid assisted treatment. Some of these devices are non-invasive and may enable a patient to overcome opioid addiction in as few as 5 days.

The country is in desperate need of a solution and fast. Realistically, how soon could this technology be implemented to help reduce the problem?

Depending on the invasiveness of the technology, solutions could come to market within a few years. Now that this crisis is getting the attention it deserves, our hope is that new solutions can be expedited through the FDA’s regulatory process to bring solutions to patients as quickly as possible.

How cost-effective is this method?

Implantable pain management solutions have had multiple health economic studies over the years and are widely considered cost-effective.  Not only do they reduce the overall pharma therapy cost to the system but they often enable someone living with chronic pain to return to the workforce.

I understand you have a deep understanding of technology in the health industry, are there other forms of technology you see that has potential to help tackle this epidemic?

We are learning more and more about the human nervous system every day. The past decade has ushered in an explosion of neurotechnology designed to measure, improve and repair nervous system function in patients suffering from chronic diseases, including pain.  Recent advances have enabled us to measure the brain’s response to various treatment paradigms like never before.  

Combined with wearable biomonitoring devices, we can compile vast amounts of clinical data and utilize complex machine learning algorithms to help physicians make better clinical diagnoses and prescribe more effective, real-time treatment.

On a slightly more upbeat note, what advancements are you looking forward to seeing from this technology over the next five years?

As mentioned before, our ability to listen to the nervous system and respond in real time with various treatment paradigms is an exciting new horizon. Advances in implantable neurostimulators, wearable stimulators and diagnostic devices, and new imaging techniques, are providing rich fuel for the discovery of new therapies.

Leaders of the neurotech revolution are adopting an emerging sub-sector of the Internet of Things (IoT) for use in neurotechnology – the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT). IoMT is being leveraged to improve medical care by integrating neurological data with other biometric diagnostics, thus providing medical professionals with richer information to make customized patient-centric treatment plans.  

I believe this is the future of bioelectrics and more so medical practice at a whole – a future that will improve patient outcomes and simultaneously reduce the burden on the overall healthcare system.