Drug development in anaesthesia: industrial perspective

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Purpose of review

In this review, we summarize the new drugs in development in the anaesthesia field.

Recent findings

There are some interesting approaches, including pro-drugs of propofol such as Aquavan (MGI Pharma, Bloomington, Minnesota, USA) and novel ‘soft-drug’ sedatives and hypnotics (e.g. CNS-7259X and TD-4756) as well as a novel approach to terminate the action of steroidal neuromuscular blockers (sugammadex). There is also significant activity in the field of novel analgesics. Particularly addressing the fields of sedatives, hypnotics and neuromuscular blockers, however, there is relatively little drug discovery activity currently. Part of the reason for this may be that the mechanisms of action of anaesthetics are not fully understood. This cannot be the whole story, however, since attractive new targets have recently been identified. For example, an agent with selective actions at the β3-containing subunit of the γ-amino butyric acid-A receptor is likely to have the hypnotic effects of propofol without the cardiac depressant side-effects.


We consider the main reason for low activity is the perception in industry that there is little need for new drugs in anaesthesia because the needs are well addressed by existing agents. If this is not the case then anaesthesiologists need to be more effective in communicating their requirements.

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