US trials showed dexmedetomidine (Precedex) provided better sedation and comfort for ICU patients than benzodiazepines such as lorazepam. The drug is an alpha-2 agonist, a novel sedative with analgesic properties that controls stress, anxiety and pain.
The trials, led by researchers at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, compared the effects of dexmedetomidine and lorazepam on 106 ICU patients. Around 30% fewer patients on dexmedetomidine experienced coma and had, on average, four more coma and delirium-free days over the 12-day trials.
The studies draw on earlier research by Mervyn Maze of Imperial College London, who is waiting for Finnish pharmaceutical company Orion to complete a comparative study of the drug before marketing it in the UK.
‘A lot of nurses in the UK have a familiarity with the drug because they participated in clinical trials in 2002, which were looking at short-term use of the drug,’ he told NT.
‘However, the European Medicines Agency asked for comparative studies and the drug companies refused this at the time,’ he said. ‘Now Orion are in the process of the comparative study. I expect this study should provoke quite a lot of excitement.
‘It [the drug] should be available in the UK within two or three years,’ he added.
Professor Maze discovered the sedative properties of dexmedetomidine in 1986, while he was at Stanford University in California.
‘After 20 years of studying it – and understanding its mechanism of action and successfully predicting the application – it’s wonderful to have a demonstration of how the molecule actually improves patients’ quality of life,’ he said. ‘It’s a great example of how translational medical research brings benefit to patients.’