I am driven to develop nonaddictive pain medications

What if we had painkilling drugs that never reached the brain? It would mean pain relief without the threat of addiction, and it is the goal of neuroscience professor George Wilcox.

George Wilcox
“If you can reduce the number of brains exposed to these drugs, then I think we could have a win.” George Wilcox, Professor Click to tweet

The high price of addiction and pain relief

70 billion

Dollars per year

That’s the cost of controlling chronic pain in the United States.


Deaths per year

That’s the human cost of opiate overdoses in the United States.

Making painkillers nonaddictive


George Wilcox’s goal is simple: to prevent addiction to analgesic drugs by restricting their action to the spinal cord or peripheral nervous system—for example, in nerves of an inflamed joint.

Working with mice, Wilcox has found two drugs that act in these areas and that are 100 times more potent in combination than singly. This discovery predicts that a 99 percent reduction in dosage would give the same amount of pain relief. Wilcox’s ultimate goal is to apply this finding to humans.

(Image courtesy of Brian McAdams, Kennedy Lab.)

Increasing potency to decrease addiction

Wilcox and colleagues have found two drugs that, in combination, pack 100 times the potency of either drug alone.

illustration of two pills



animation of two pills combining to produce a more effective dose



“Our research starts with the design of molecules.” George Wilcox, Professor Click to tweet