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Purdue Pharma offered data and molecules to Oklahoma State University (OSU) after a settlement announced in March by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter (left) and OSU medical school President Kayse Shrum (right).


New addiction research center receives trove of molecules from embattled opioidmaker

When Oklahoma State University (OSU) got a major windfall from a settlement with opioidmaker Purdue Pharma earlier this year, it still faced a long road to establish itself as a hub for addiction research and treatment. That road got a bit shorter last week when the company announced that it in addition to the settlement money, it would hand over thousands of its proprietary molecules, patient samples, and other data.

The new agreement is separate from the settlement reached in March between Purdue, based in Stamford, Connecticut, and the state of Oklahoma, which alleged that the company marketed the painkiller OxyContin deceptively, helping fuel an epidemic of opioid abuse. The state agreed to drop its suit in return for support for a National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at OSU’s Center for Wellness and Recovery in Tulsa. The new center is funded by a $177 million endowment from Purdue and its owner, the Sackler family.

In conversations with OSU about the new endowment, the company mentioned that it had thousands of molecules it had been investigating as potential drugs but that it no longer planned to pursue, says Jason Beaman, who heads OSU’s psychiatry department and helped develop the school’s wellness center. “We just said, ‘Hey, we would we happy to take those off your hands and do the right thing.’”

The research center, which aims to study the underlying causes of pain and addiction to improve pain management and treat substance use disorders, anticipated a “10- to 15-year ramp-up” to set up new projects and identify collaborators, Beaman says. But access to these research molecules “dramatically speeds up that timeline,” he says. “It’s unprecedented for any major biotech firm to hand over such volume of molecules to an academic institution.”

Purdue will also share blood samples from patients enrolled in its clinical trials and accompanying data about patient and family history, which could help OSU researchers investigate genetic pathways that drive pain and addiction.

Purdue will provide the molecules under a nonexclusive license at no cost to the university. It’s not clear what Purdue’s trove will contain—or how much of it is a “failure pile,” Beaman says, though even opioids the company abandoned might hold insights into how pain medicines work. Should any of the molecules prove promising drug candidates, Beaman says, the sharing arrangement gives OSU sole right to profits from resulting discoveries.