Investigators at McLean Receive Award To Test Xenon Gas as Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder

Novel treatment approach to rapidly reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms may help address the opioid epidemic

October 12, 2021

Researchers at McLean Hospital, in collaboration with Nobilis Therapeutics, have been awarded a grant to test a novel xenon gas-based treatment for opioid use disorder.


  • McLean Hospital researchers have been awarded a grant by the National Institute on Drug Abuse to test xenon gas to rapidly lessen opioid withdrawal symptoms in mice
  • The investigators are teaming up with Nobilis Therapeutics to advance the strategy towards the clinic

The Phase I Small Business Technology Transfer Grant was awarded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) of the National Institutes of Health under award number R41DA055403. The grant will fund tests that mimic Nobilis Therapeutics’ NBTX-001 inhaler for rapidly reducing opioid withdrawal symptoms in mice. It is hoped that the treatment could eventually help reduce unprescribed, or street, opioid use, which often leads to overdoses and deaths. NIDA recently reported nearly 70,000 opioid-related overdose deaths this past year.

The investigators have not yet tested the effects of xenon on opioid withdrawal symptoms. However, others have shown that xenon—whether administered at high concentrations during anesthesia or at low concentrations (close to what the team proposes to test with funding from this grant)—rapidly lowers the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which drives the symptoms experienced by individuals during opioid withdrawal.

Vials in research lab

“Lofexidine is an FDA-approved medication to reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms and its mechanism of action is to reduce sympathetic nervous system activity,” said Marc J. Kaufman, PhD, director of the Translational Imaging Laboratory at McLean Hospital. “We think that xenon’s ability to rapidly inhibit sympathetic nervous system activity—faster than lofexidine—could translate into rapid inhibition of opioid withdrawal symptoms. If so, patients might choose to take xenon instead of opioids to relieve their withdrawal symptoms.”

Kaufman, with his colleague Edward G. Meloni, PhD, an investigator in McLean’s Behavioral Genetics Laboratory, previously discovered xenon’s potential to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and received a patent allowance to apply the discovery to the clinic. At the time, Nobilis Therapeutics, a biotechnology company that develops inhalation-based treatments for psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases, licensed the patent. The current grant extends the researchers’ collaboration with the company.

“Pending positive proof-of-concept data in this preclinical animal study, we will work with Nobilis to recruit patients at McLean for a phase 2 clinical study to determine if the company’s proprietary hand-held xenon inhaler could mitigate withdrawal symptoms in individuals attempting to stop taking opiates,” said Meloni. “Xenon is very well-tolerated by people, and it has no known misuse liability and rare incidences of side effects like dizziness and nausea, which is beneficial as a treatment for patients who are experiencing very uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.”

Vlad Bogin, MD, FACP, Nobilis Therapeutics’ chief executive officer, noted that the partnership with McLean Hospital has been very productive. “We are excited to initiate this important work that we hope can be translated into an effective treatment for millions of patients struggling with opioid addiction.”

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