New Vaccine Technology Could Stop Heroin Abuse by Blocking Euphoria

Researchers with the U.S. Military HIV Research Program at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) report that an experimental heroin vaccine-induced antibodies that prevented the medication from crossing the blood-brain barrier in mice and rats.

The new vaccine technology was co-developed at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the preclinical research.

Dr. Gary Matyas, Chief of Adjuvants and Formulations for the U.S. Military Research Program (MHRP), WRAIR said, “By eliciting antibodies that bind with heroin in the blood, the vaccine means to block the euphoria and addictive effects”.

“We hope to provide individuals a window so they can defeat their addiction.” The study, published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, demonstrated that the vaccine produced antibodies against other commonly misused opioids, including hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone, and codeine.

The vaccine seemed to reduce the effect of heroin at a high-dosage, which may demonstrate a potential to prevent overdose.

In clinical settings, it is essential that the antibodies induced by a heroin or opioid vaccine don’t cross-react with the treatments for opioid abuse, for example, methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.

Scientists found that the antibodies did not react with these compounds and, all the more significant, the antibodies induced by the immunization did not cross-react with naloxone, which is utilized as the overdose rescue treatment to reverse respiratory depression because of heroin and another opioid overdose.

In spite of the fact that the utilization of opioids for pain management in individuals suffering addiction is of concern, scientists found that methadone, tramadol, fentanyl, sufentanil, nalbuphine, and buprenorphine did not bind to the antibodies, indicating that they could be utilized if acute pain treatment is required for emergency use in vaccinated patients.

Scientists also found that there was no binding to the non-narcotic pain relievers like aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen, so these would likely stay effective.

The abuse of opioids, which include heroin and fentanyl, is a growing problem in the U.S. As indicated by the CDC, 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

For opioid abuse, most pharmacological therapies include opioid management therapy (OMT), yet treatment gets to be an issue.

Likewise, adherence varies greatly and relapse rates can be high. To end the opioid overdose individuals, many different types of treatments and medications will be needed to meet the needs of people addicted to these drugs.

Matyas said, “Despite the fact that we are still in the early stage, this study recommends that vaccination can be utilized together with standard treatments to prevent the withdrawal and craving symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal”.

WRAIR scientists utilized their expertise in vaccine advancement and novel adjuvants research to develop this experimental heroin antibody with their partners at NIDA.

To stimulate the immune system the vaccine includes a potent adjuvant called the Army Liposome Formulation (ALF), which was additionally developed by scientists at WRAIR.

The vaccine was developed jointly with intramural researchers at the Drug Design and Synthesis Section (Dr. Kenner C. Rice, Chief), Molecular Targets and Medications Discovery Branch, NIDA.

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