Researchers have created a fentanyl vaccine that can stop the brain from feeling the effects of the drug, which could be a huge step toward saving lives and combatting the opioid crisis.
The breakthrough by a research team at the University of Houston (UH) could prevent relapses in people trying to overcome their addiction to opioids.
Therese Kosten, professor of psychology and director of the Developmental, Cognitive & Behavioral Neuroscience program at UH, calls the new vaccine a potential “game changer” in a press release.
The vaccine was tested on rats and successfully produced antibodies that blocked the effects of fentanyl. The rats were injected with one dose every three weeks prior to being exposed to fentanyl.
Observations from the study found that post-vaccination, antibodies prevent the drug from getting to the brain, so a drug user will not have a euphoric feeling, which could make it easier for individuals to stop using the drug.
Researchers, whose findings were recently published in the journal Pharmaceuticals, say the preclinical results demonstrate efficacy and warrant further study and development as a potential therapeutic for Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) and overdoses in humans.
“We believe these findings could have a significant impact on a very serious problem plaguing society for years – opioid misuse,” the study’s lead author Colin Haile, research associate professor of psychology at UH and the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation and Statistics (TIMES) said. “Our vaccine is able to generate anti-fentanyl antibodies that bind to the consumed fentanyl and prevent it from entering the brain, allowing it to be eliminated out of the body via the kidneys. Thus, the individual will not feel the euphoric effects and can ‘get back on the wagon’ to sobriety.”
There were no cross-reactions to other opioids from the vaccine and the research team expects minimal side effects because two of the ingredients in their fentanyl vaccine are either already in other vaccines on the market, or have been tested in multiple human clinical trials.
“The anti-fentanyl antibodies were specific to fentanyl and a fentanyl derivative and did not cross-react with other opioids, such as morphine. That means a vaccinated person would still be able to be treated for pain relief with other opioids,” said Haile.
Funding for the study was provided by the U.S. Department of Defense through the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Disorders Program.