Suffering from chronic pain is both physically and emotionally debilitating. It is extremely hard to focus on daily tasks when being constantly distracted or incapacitated by the pain while enduring the stigma of having a disease that is not readily obvious on the outside. About 20% of Europeans suffer from chronic pain, and the prevalence of chronic pain is higher in women, compared to men, and increases with age. Only 40% of these patients report adequate pain relief treatment, while 60% of the patients do not experience proper pain relief upon treatment or suffer from confounding adverse effects. The socio-economic impact is greater than in other health conditions because chronic pain patients are frequently absent from work or have to leave the workforce entirely due to their debilitating disease.
Therapy with a single medication is often ineffective and associated with severe adverse effects. For example, the prescription of opioids, which are a frequently used class of pain medications (analgesics) are effective for some, but not all chronic pain patients, and side effects and adverse outcomes include unwanted sedation, cognitive impairment, and the liability of addiction and abuse.
In contrast, so-called combinational therapies, meaning, for example, an opioid in combination with anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications, or other medications that act beneficially on the central nervous system (CNS) are more promising and may lead to an improved and healthier balance of therapeutic benefits versus adverse effects. Novel technologies, such as in silico pharmacology (computerised prediction and analysis of actions and effects of medications in the body), pharmacogenetics (studying why and how people respond differently to certain medications based upon their individual genetic background), and systems biology (holistic multi-organ, whole-body approaches), nowadays allow for much more personalised therapeutic approaches than in the past. Quantitative Systems Pharmacology (QSP) merges these novel technologies to tailor treatments to the specific needs of individuals and stratified patients groups.