Pain News Network; July 23, 2020; By Pat Anson, PNN Editor
Millions of patients with diabetic peripheral neuropathy live with burning or stinging pain in their hands and feet. In what could be called a case of fighting fire with fire, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first use of a medicated patch made with capsaicin – the spicy substance that makes chili peppers hot – as a treatment for diabetic neuropathy.
The Qutenza skin patch is made by Grünenthal and contains 8% capsaicin, which acts on pain receptors in the skin by desensitizing and numbing nerve endings.
“Pain associated with diabetic neuropathy is an extremely challenging condition to diagnose, treat and manage effectively, which has a significant quality of life impact for many patients,” said David Simpson, MD, a Professor of Neurology at the Icahn School of Medicine. “In addition, patients are dissatisfied with unresolved pain and the side effects associated with current systemic treatments.”
A 2015 study found that Qutenza worked faster than pregabalin (Lyrica) in treating neuropathic pain, providing relief in 7.5 days, compared to an average of 36 days in patients taking pregabalin. Patients who used Qutenza were also more satisfied with their treatment and had fewer side effects.
That same year the European Commission approved Qutenza as a treatment for diabetic neuropathy, but it took another five years for the FDA to give its approval for the same condition. The patch was initially approved by the FDA in 2009 for treating post-herpetic neuralgia, a complication from shingles.
“Painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy has a significant impact on the day-to-day lives of millions of individuals, and we believe Qutenza can be a much-needed non-opioid treatment option for these patients,” Jan Adams, Grünenthal’s Chief Scientific Officer, said in a statement. “This expanded indication of Qutenza in the U.S. is an exciting milestone in our efforts to make Qutenza available to even more patients in need worldwide.”
A big catch is that the patch shouldn’t be applied at home and should only be used sparingly. According to its warning label, Qutenza should be applied by a doctor or healthcare professional, who should be wearing a face mask and gloves to protect themselves in a well-ventilated area. Up to four patches can be applied on the feet for up to 30 minutes, a procedure that can be repeated every three months. The most common side effects are redness, itching and irritation of the skin where the patch is applied.
Qutenza has gotten mixed reviews from patients, who warned that capsaicin can cause painful burning sensations.
“Qutenza really does work. I did have very intense burning,” a patient posted in a review on Drugs.com. “The pain can be mind blowing but it does subside and a cool fan helps. Don't let your pets near the area as it will burn them. I have had multiple Qutenza and… it lasts up to 3 months plus. Don't apply yourselves. Use a health professional as it does burn.”
“Although I was informed about this treatment and how your body might react to it, my case spiraled out of hands,” another patient wrote. “The medics had to call a team to manage my situation. The pain was so much that without a shred of doubt words simply can not explain.”
Diabetic neuropathy is a progressive and debilitating complication of diabetes that affects more than 5 million Americans. Patients typically experience numbness, tingling or stabbing sensations in their hands and feet. More severe cases can result in foot ulcers, amputations and other complications.