No Pain, All Gain

A New Way to Relieve Pain

Sometimes, it helps to look at a problem with fresh eyes. That’s what University of Louisville researcher Dr. Jeff Petruska did, when he discovered a new, safer way to relieve pain. 

He began work on the local anesthetic after noticing the surprising numbing effects of a drug already used in veterinary medicine. Unlike other drugs already on the market, this one doesn’t come from cocaine, which can prevent healing, cause damage or result in overuse. 

“This will be the first anesthetic of its kind that’s not derived from cocaine,” said Dr. Patrick Scott, an assistant professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, who helped develop the technology. “So, we’re really excited about it because it’s essentially a new generation of aesthetics that will be available.” 

The product got a boost after a successful bid for UofL’s ExCITE program, a competitive National Institutes of Health (NIH) REACH grant designed to turn biomedical innovations into commercial products that improve patient care and enhance human health. Aside from funding, awardees also get training and mentorship. 

“The training that we received here at UofL… taught me a lot about how to change the science that we do, and make it more directly applicable for commercialization,”  said Petruska, assistant professor of Anatomical Sciences and Neurobiology and member of the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center.

Rebecca Brown, who manages the ExCITE program, said Petruska had originally proposed an injectable anesthetic. While that had a lot of potential applications, market research and customer discovery through the UofL National Science Foundation I-Corps Site program revealed a need for a topical drug.

“It was really in the process of understanding his market and talking to clinicians that he found this wide-open space, this unmet clinical need,” she said.

So, Petruska pivoted. Then, he licensed the technology through the UofL Office of Technology Transfer, and is working to commercialize it through a new startup company — “dSentz,” he said, “as in ‘desensitize.’” 

Now, the team is working to meet requirements set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which would need to approve the drug before it goes to market. 

This will be the first anesthetic of its kind that’s not derived from cocaine. So, we’re really excited about it because it’s essentially a new generation of aesthetics that will be available.
— Dr. Patrick Scott, an assistant professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences
“The training that we received here at UofL… taught me a lot about how to change the science that we do, and make it more directly applicable for commercialization.”
— Dr. Jeff Petruska, assistant professor of Anatomical Sciences and Neurobiology and member of the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center