Innovator of the Week: Dr. Ketul Patel, Winner of the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation

Dr. Patel’s breakthrough research is leading the way in developing a non-addictive medication to treat chronic pain.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Ketul Patel.

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More than 30 per cent of Canadians suffer from chronic pain, for which opioids are currently the only effective treatment. However, there is hope on the horizon thanks to some innovative research by Dr. Ketul Patel, a postdoctoral researcher in the Faculty of Science at the University of Calgary.

The Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation-Postdoctoral, given annually by national innovation organization Mitacs, acknowledges outstanding contributions to Canadian research and innovation. Dr. Patel was recognized with the award in late 2023 in recognition of his work towards finding a novel, non-addictive treatment for chronic pain. “It’s a big achievement in my life and a big honour,” says Dr. Patel. “This is kind of like my dream come true.”

The current issue with prescribing opioids for chronic pain is that patients can build up a drug dependency and drug tolerance to opioids, according to Dr. Patel. “It’s kind of scary because once they stop the medication, if they want to start again, then they need a higher dose of the opioids.”

The small molecule that Dr. Patel has successfully identified targets a newly discovered pain relief pathway, which mitigates pain without the negative side effects associated with opioids. Currently, Dr. Patel is working in collaboration with Calgary-based biopharmaceutical company Zymedyne Therapeutics to gather more toxicology data in the development of this drug. Zymedyne will assist Dr. Patel with increased funding in order to move into clinical trials, bringing this first-of-its-kind, safer and non-addictive medication to treat neuropathic pain one step closer to commercialization and effectively providing pain patients with a way to treat pain without the risk of developing a drug dependency.

“If our drug comes to the market, it will give patients a choice to take the non-opioid medication for their chronic pain,” says Dr. Patel.

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