Taking an entrepreneurial view of global health problems

Daniel Sipple is helping develop a group of new non-opiate painkillers that he likens to the Post-it Note for utilizing technology previously used for a completely different purpose.

Daniel Sipple, D.O.’03, FABPMR, DABPM, believes that thinking and acting like an entrepreneur is an effective way for physicians to avoid burnout. One way he practices that belief is in his role as co-founder and medical adviser for the St. Paul, MN-based biotechnology company InSitu Biologics LLC. The company is using its Matrix™ BioHydrogel to develop long-lasting and long-acting non-opiate painkillers, AnestaGel-P™ for humans and AniGel SR™ for animals.

Research funded by the company in 2016 and subsequent research published in the Journal of Pain Research in 2017 showed that AnestaGel-P delivered a statistically greater analgesic effect on rats at 24 and 48 hours post-surgical incision than Exparel, a leading non-opiate analgesic used to treat post-operative pain. Both drugs contain the anesthetic bupivacaine, but AnestaGel-P’s peanut butter-like viscosity keeps it from migrating from the injection site, making it more precise. Its molecular structure also dissolves bupivacaine in a way so the drug is “tunable” in its delivery rate, duration and stability. InSitu Biologics is now preparing phase one of a clinical study. 

“AnestaGel improves upon what’s already on the market for post-operative pain and has numerous other clinical applications. Pain is a huge issue, and the conditions that cause it can be very expensive to treat.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. Opioid use has increased to a crisis level since the late 1990s. Opioid overdoses killed more than 47,000 people in 2017. 

“Industry estimates the number of pills that patients go home with post-surgery amounts to over one billion annually,” he says. “Sustained-release anesthetics have the potential to reduce that by 300 million. Those are pills that can’t be abused or contribute to overdose.” 

A physiatrist who is board-certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation and pain management, Sipple describes InSitu’s product developments as “a tangible example of what can be done on a relative shoestring by repurposing existing technologies.” Its new drugs utilize hydrogel technology developed by the Cleveland Clinic to produce artificial cartilage but that wasn’t applied to other purposes. 

“It’s like the 3M Post-it Note,” he says, referencing the ubiquitous squares of sticky paper. A 3M Corp. scientist developed the light adhesive in 1974, but it wasn’t until years later that a colleague found a purpose for it. 

Sipple’s interests go beyond patient care and pain management. He serves on the board of the Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics (SBMT), a nonprofit alliance of physicians, scientists, engineers, government and non-governmental agencies seeking rapid introduction of therapeutics for brain and spine disorders. In May he participated in discussions at the White House advocating for SBMT’s proposed Brain Technology and Innovation Park Initiative, which would generate public and private funding for the society’s efforts. 

Last November, Sipple was among the speakers at the fifth annual conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, of the Neuroscience-20 Group. SBMT and the Brain Mapping Foundation established N-20 as the world’s first think tank for basic, translational and clinical discoveries in the field. He spoke again at N-20 in Osaka, Japan, this past June. 

“It’s very humanizing to see that people all over the world unified by the common human experience of someone they love with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological conditions. They take a significant emotional toll and cost $13 trillion worldwide.” 

Sipple may have inherited his entrepreneurial bent from his father, Ralph Sipple, who held several patents, including relating to video on demand services. Daniel Sipple also has a patent pending for a “smart” needle that injects directly into the spinal cord, reducing the inflammatory damage from spinal cord injury. 

“I hope to have an impact and leave a legacy in the treatment of spinal cord injury,” he says. “The humanistic and social cost of this condition is begging for innovation.” 

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