Crist Frangakis and Achelios Therapeutics: Creating Solutions for Millions of Chronic Pain Sufferers 

By Spencer Hulse Spencer Hulse has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on May 15, 2024

Anyone who has ever suffered from migraines or any severe physical pain understands how life-altering it can be. There is no way to “suck it up” or push past the pain. It virtually leaves you powerless: powerless to work, powerless to do daily activities, powerless to live. Many resort to addictive and dangerous medications, that is, if they can even get them. Others regularly take over-the-counter meds that cause liver damage and stomach issues after prolonged use, while some just suffer in silence.

Fortunately, Achelios Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company founded by Crist Frangakis, is developing a topical pain management solution. Since its inception in 2012, the company has been addressing chronic pain conditions such as migraines and arthritis-related joint pain.

“Our mission is to improve patients’ lives by developing promising therapies for patients’ needs not currently fulfilled by existing products,” Frangakis shares. “There is a huge unmet need for chronic pain solutions, yet big pharma has largely abandoned it. Our development programs in chronic pain include repurposed and reformulated drugs.”

What is extraordinary about Achelios and Frangakis’ solution is that they have developed a topical drug delivery platform that works directly at the pain site. The dosage is lower while allowing for quicker relief than traditional systemic delivery. Frangakis explains, “We have clinically and preclinically demonstrated that our drug formulations are superior to currently available products. We can treat moderate to severe joint pain and migraines without the use of opioids.” Additionally, Frangakis’ formulation ensures sustained stability and protects the drug from degradation due to ultraviolet light exposure, which is familiar with other gel-based topical products. 

The genesis of Achelios started when Crist Frangakis retired early from Johnson & Johnson. “What was I going to do? Stay home and sit around?” Not a chance. With over 25 years of experience in pharmaceutical research and development, licensing, and business development, he knew he had more to offer. 

He was a scientist and section head of research at Burroughs, Wellcome. and Glaxo, where he led several cardiovascular and metabolic drug discovery and development. In addition, Frangakis was responsible for pharmaceutical licensing and corporate development for 13 years at Johnson & Johnson and Bayer, closing several successful major partnering deals. Prior to that, he received his Ph.D. in pharmacology from the University of Arizona and a B.S. in chemistry from the University of South Carolina. He is also an author of over 70 peer-reviewed publications, and impressively, Frangakis holds 20 patents.

Along with over 25 years studying cardiovascular health, he had also acquired a solid foundation for understanding the mechanisms behind migraines. “We realized that a migraine develops due to vasculature expanding in the meninges and the brain. What I wanted to do was to inhibit the vasodilation of these vessels. The approach we took is by applying a topical, non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drug to the surface of the trigeminal nerve, which is in front of the ear known as “Tregus,” and thought that would be a good approach to inhibit the release of vasoactive substances. And it worked, and the rest is history.”

Despite many wins for Achelios and Frangakis, the journey has been challenging, especially regarding funding for research and development. “It took us about a year to get the first dollar. After that, it happened a little bit quicker and faster until we needed a significant amount of money. And that’s where our biggest hurdle comes in.”

However, innovative strategies, such as contracting individual experts instead of hiring full-time employees, enabled Frangakis to navigate financial constraints while assembling a skilled team to drive their mission forward.

Frangakis contracted a formulation specialist from Abbott. He developed the formulation they are using in upcoming migraine joint pain studies. Subsequently, Frangakis also worked with Dr. John Fort, an MD from Johns Hopkins who has worked previously on several pain products and is very experienced in developing clinical programs. “He is part of our management board and has been of great value to Achelios. We built our company strictly on a consultant basis, hiring the people we need when we need it.”

Frangakis has always been focused on solving practical problems. Although it hasn’t been easy getting off and running, Achelios is on its way to revolutionizing pain management with a safe, effective, and affordable alternative. “There are people in great pain from arthritis who can’t afford available treatments. Some people suffer from severe pain, joint problems, and migraines and can’t get relief, and then they just end up taking opioids, and lo and behold, after treatment, they are addicted. I wanted to develop a safe and effective treatment for chronic pain to offer an effective alternative to opioids. We have done that.”

As the company advances its formulations and expands its reach, its founding principles of innovation, integrity, and patient-centric care remain steadfast, guiding Achelios toward a future of transformative impact in pain management.

By Spencer Hulse Spencer Hulse has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Spencer Hulse is the Editorial Director at Grit Daily. He is responsible for overseeing other editors and writers, day-to-day operations, and covering breaking news.

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