Swedish firm Orexo AB, despite its relatively small stature, is playing a major role in combating one of the USA’s biggest public health emergencies – the opioid crisis.
Orexo, most widely known for its opioid dependence drugs, was founded in 1995 in Uppsala, Sweden. Its top-selling product is Zubsolv, approved in the US and Europe, with sales totalling almost USD 2.8 billion between June 2017 and June 2018. Other worldwide-approved drugs Orexo has developed are Abstral for the management of cancer pain in patients already being treated with opioids, and Edluar, a treatment for short-term insomnia. Its pipeline contains several other drugs targeted toward opioid overdose and dependence.
Even the President of the United States of America has called the opioid crisis a public health emergency and made it a high priority. Orexo is proud of taking significant responsibility for finding solutions to the crisis – far more than what is expected from companies of our size.
According to the US Department of Health & Human Services, opioid overdoses accounted for more than 42,000 deaths in the USA in 2016, more than any previous year on record, and an estimated 40 percent of opioid overdose deaths involved a prescription opioid. Although many awareness campaigns have been launched and pharmaceutical companies are being held accountable for these deaths, the epidemic shows few signs of slowing down.
Nikolaj Sørensen, CEO and President of Orexo AB, commented in an interview with PharmaBoardroom, “Even the President of the United States of America has called the opioid crisis a public health emergency and made it a high priority. Orexo is proud of taking significant responsibility for finding solutions to the crisis – far more than what is expected from companies of our size.”
Orexo has been able to support patients not only with drugs but also through political advocacy. Sørensen remarked, “When entering the market, we identified a major bottleneck related to the access to treatment, as physicians had a limit of 100 patients, which they could treat for opioid addiction. However, the number of patients is far higher, so doctors face a dilemma as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will revoke their license if they treat more patients than they are allowed to. On the other hand, they would break their doctor’s oath when not treating a patient. Orexo then started a lobby campaign at the congress in Washington DC in 2016, to extend the number of patients that can be treated from 100 to 275. In a speech, President Obama highlighted how he was very encouraged by the support he received from Senators and Representatives from both parties to the motion, Orexo is proud to have played an active role in this process, educating the politicians about the issue and encouraging them to act. A small company from Sweden, therefore, played an instrumental role in extending patient numbers for opioid dependence that can be treated by one doctor.”
Sørensen went on to explain, “My hope for Orexo is to have a broader portfolio, which we aim to achieve by expanding within opioid addiction and through a branch-out strategy…. Despite having a smaller R&D department today than in 2013, we have more advanced projects running, because we are involved in more partnerships with other companies in Sweden and around the world.” Orexo is looking to the future and investigating how to leverage AI as part of an innovative treatment plan. The company recently signed a partnership agreement with GAIA for rights to its digital platform, with the goal of launching a digital therapy for opioid use disorder called DTx. Based on an AI-expert system, the platform engages users in highly individualized interactions, guiding patients step-by-step towards specific goals and therapeutic targets.