Researchers Develop A Vaccine For Opioid Dependency
Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute say they have developed an experimental vaccine that lowers the risk of an opioid overdose. This could one day change the way opioid dependency is treated. Results of the study were published in the journal ACS Chemical Biology.
Kim Janda, PhD, study-coauthor and professor of chemistry, Scripps:
“We saw both blunting of the drug’s effects and, remarkably, prevention of drug lethality. The protection against overdose death was unforeseen but clearly of enormous potential clinical benefit.”
Vaccines work by preparing the body to fight diseases while avoiding exposure to disease symptoms.
When foreign invaders such as bacteria or viruses are present, immune cells respond by producing antibodies.
Upon injection, the opioid vaccine prompts an immune system reaction when the painkillers hydrocodone and oxycodone are identified. Then, the immune system releases the antibodies, which seek out the opioid offenders and connect to the drugs’ molecules. This blocks them from entering the brain.
In lab tests on mice, researchers found that the vaccine also blocked pain-relieving effects, as well as feelings of euphoria. It also decreased the risk of a life-threatening overdose. While some mice did die, it took the drugs much longer to reach a fatal effect. This fact could help save human lives, since it would give first responders more time to intervene with the anti-overdose drug Narcan.
Study co-author Cody Wenthur, PhD, research associate, Scripps:
“The vaccine approach stops the drug before it even gets to the brain. It’s like a preemptive strike.”
Current treatment for opioid addiction relies primarily on the use of other opioids, such suboxone and methadone. These drugs help with harm reduction by decreasing cravings for stronger drugs, but they still have the potential to be abused.
Researchers say the next step is to try to make the vaccine even more effective. In addition, Scripps is also working on vaccines which would neutralize the effects of synthetic opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl.
Indeed, others at Opiant Pharmaceuticals in California say they are currently in the process of developing a similar vaccine for heroin addiction. Opiant is the maker of the overdose reversal drug Narcan.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology