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A photoablation approach for the treatment of chronic pain and itch

Dr Paul Heppenstall, European Molecular Biology Laboratory

EMBLEM Technology Transfer GmbH


Pathological itch and pain are two neurological sensations that affect millions of people worldwide and which have a dramatic impact on the quality of life. Current options of treatment for both indications are limited in number and effectiveness resulting in an unmet medical need for novel therapeutics. For patients living with chronic pruritic disease, therapies that reduce scratching and therefore break the cycle of itch and skin damage are the most promising strategy for improving quality of life. People suffering from chronic neuropathic pain currently rely mostly on treatments that focus on the relief of symptoms for a certain time and are often accompanied by severe side effects, which accentuates the requirement for novel analgesics. Here we present a technology that overcomes the limitations of current treatment options for both chronic itch and neuropathic pain, and forms the basis for a new generation of therapies for various indications in neurology.


Scientists at the EMBL have developed a technology that allows for the targeted activation of effector molecules acting on specific types of neurons. The core of the technology is based on the coupling of a photosensitizer to ligands that bind to the neurons causing itch, pain and allodynia. The construct is applied to itchy or painful skin areas and irradiated with near infrared light. The construct only binds to nerves of its designated type. When the photosensitizer is activated by light it causes the bound nerves retract. In studies with mice it was shown that a one-time photoablation treatment with our constructs could eliminate itch, pain and allodynia for several weeks, while other sensations remained unaffected.

Commercial Opportunity

We are seeking a partner who will push our technology for the studied indications towards clinical development. Additionally, we are interested in expanding our technology towards other targets/indications. We offer both, collaboration and/or licensing models for partnering.

Development Status

Proof of concept has been accomplished in mice.

Patent Situation

Priority patent application and PCT patent application have been filed.

Further Reading



A photoablation approach for the treatment of chronic pain and itch