(Corrects to paragraph 10 to say the drug Remoxy ER belongs to Pain Therapeutics, not Durect)
May 8 (Reuters) - Durect Corp said on Monday it signed an up to $293 million deal with Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG's Sandoz unit to develop and market Durect's experimental non-opioid pain relief therapy, posimir, in the United States.
Posimir is designed to deliver local anesthetic, bupivacaine, and provide up to three days of post-surgical pain relief.
The abuse of opioids — a class of drugs that include heroin and prescription painkillers — has assumed epidemic proportions in the United States.
Lawmakers, regulators and drugmakers have been working on ways to arrest the abuse, which experts partly attribute to the unrestricted prescription of painkillers.
Every day, 91 Americans die of opioid overdose, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.
Posimir may help reduce the dependency on opioid-based medications following surgery, Durect said.
As part of the deal, Sandoz will make an upfront payment of $20 million, and up to $273 million in milestone payments as well as royalties on product sales.
Durect, which will remain responsible for the completion of its ongoing late-stage study for posimir, expects the deal to close by the second quarter of 2017.
The company's pipeline includes therapies for non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, a chronic liver disease and acute organ injury.
Durect's licensee Pain Therapeutics Inc received positive guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in March for its long-acting opioid painkiller, Remoxy ER, which was rejected by the regulator in September.
Reporting by Akankshita Mukhopadhyay in Bengaluru; Editing by Martina D'Couto