A vaccine against the deadly fentanyl could be close at hand

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By Cara Murez

Health Day Reporter

THURSDAY, November 17, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Researchers report they have developed a vaccine to combat fentanyl addiction, a possible breakthrough in the opioid epidemic.

The shot would block fentanyl’s ability to enter the brain and cause the “high” that users are craving. It could be used to prevent relapse in people trying to quit opioids once it has progressed through clinical trials, the scientists said.

“We believe these findings could have a significant impact on a very serious problem that has plagued society for years — opioid abuse,” said study author Colin Haile, associate science professor of psychology at the University of Houston and the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation and Statistics.

“Our vaccine is able to produce anti-fentanyl antibodies, which bind to the fentanyl you take and prevent it from getting to the brain, allowing it to be excreted from the body through the kidneys. Thus, the individual will not and cannot feel the euphoric effects.” ‘Get back on that wagon’ to sobriety,” Haile explained in a university press release.

The team has been testing the drug on animals but plans to start manufacturing a clinical-grade vaccine and start human trials in the coming months. However, research on animals does not always lead to humans.

In the United States, more than 150 people die every day from overdoses of synthetic opioids, including fentanyl. About 80% of people who try to quit relapse.

Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Even a tiny amount, 2 milligrams, is likely to cause death.

Scientists created the vaccine using a derivative of E. coli Bacteria to boost the immune response to the vaccine.

“The anti-fentanyl antibodies were specific for fentanyl and a fentanyl derivative and did not show any cross-reactions with other opioids such as morphine. That means a vaccinated person can continue to be treated with other opioids for pain relief,” Haile said.

Even people who don’t normally use fentanyl but use other drugs sometimes experience fentanyl overdoses because the drug is often added to street drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, fake benzodiazepines like Xanax, and other opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone.

The opioid use disorder is treated with a mix of drugs, including methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone, the researchers noted.

This new vaccine could be a “game-changer,” said Therese Kosten, director of the Developmental, Cognitive, and Behavioral Neurosciences program at the University of Houston (UH).

“Fentanyl use and overdose is a particular treatment challenge that is not adequately addressed with current drugs due to their pharmacodynamics, and treatment of acute overdose with the short-acting naloxone is not adequately effective, as multiple doses of naloxone are often required to complete.” reverse the lethal effects of fentanyl,” said Kosten, who was the study’s senior author.

Other members of the research team included Greg Cuny, professor of drug discovery at the UH College of Pharmacy, and researchers from Baylor College of Medicine and the Michael E. DeBakey Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center, both also in Houston.

The results were recently published online in the journal Pharmacy.

Funding was provided by the US Department of Defense under the Alcohol and Substance Use Disorders Program administered by RTI International’s Pharmacotherapies for Alcohol and Substance Use Disorders Alliance.

More information

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on preventing opioid use disorders.

SOURCE: University of Houston, press release, November 14, 2022



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