Opioid Vaccine: An Addiction Fighting Idea You May Not Have Heard Of
The federal government this week released President Trump’s “Initiative to Stop Opioid Abuse and Reduce Drug Supply and Demand,” with opioid overdoses now the leading cause of injury death in the United States, outnumbering both traffic crashes and gun-related deaths.
Overshadowed by the president’s mention of seeking the death penalty for drug dealers was a call for continued work on opioid vaccines.
The plan calls for the government to:
“Support research and development efforts for innovative technologies and additional therapies designed to prevent addiction and decrease the use of opioids in pain management.
- This will include supporting research and development for a vaccine to prevent opioid addiction and non-addictive pain management options.”
Back in December scientists at the military’s Walter Reed Army Institute of Research announced they’d developed a vaccine that could block the euphoria felt when people use opioids. They hadn’t fully tested it yet (and presumably still haven’t completed human testing.) As of right now, nothing’s been approved in this area by the FDA.
“The vaccine, co-developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute on Drug Abuse, works by producing antibodies that prevent heroin from crossing the blood-brain barrier,” reported Fierce Biotech. “In a study, the researchers showed the vaccine also produces antibodies against hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine and other commonly abused substances.”
That research was published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.
This is different than something like methadone – which is a replacement therapy – a withdrawal drug. Methadone IS an opiate, though a less dangerous one, and it’s prescribed to help ease addicts into using less. The new vaccine being studied by the government actually blocks the effects of opiates.
A scientist at Scripps Reserch Institute in California has been working on this for years. The researcher, Kim Janda, published a paper in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry way back in 2011 on their discovery of molecules “that stop not only heroin but also other psychoactive compounds metabolized from heroin from reaching the brain to produce euphoric effects.”
“In my 25 years of making drug-of-abuse vaccines, I haven’t seen such a strong immune response as I have with what we term a dynamic anti-heroin vaccine,” said Janda in back then. The New York Times did a story about Janda’s research. But, as now, it hadn’t yet been approved for use in humans. The Times said families of heroin addicts would actually show up at Janda’s lab looking for a little bit of the vaccine.
“What am I supposed to do, go in the lab and pull it out of the refrigerator and inject you?” he said in that story.
But at the time, the country was only beginning to see the new opioid crisis.
Time Magazine took note of the work four years later after the lab published more startling results from its rat research.
“It’s really dramatic,” says Dr. George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) who was involved in the heroin vaccine research. “You can inject a rat with 10 times the dose of heroin that a normal rat [could handle] and they just look at you like nothing happened. It’s extraordinary.”
But it still wasn’t available to humans. “No pharmaceutical company is going to fund trials for heroin, no way,” Janda was quoted as saying then.
It seems the problem has gotten bad enough that the government is now doing the research too, and the president wants it pursued.
Janda has also published on efforts to use the method to fight Fentanyl addiction.