Heroin Vaccine Blocks Lethal Overdose


Source: The Scripps Research Institute

Summary: Researchers achieved a major milestone toward designing a safe and effective vaccine to both treat heroin addiction and block lethal overdose of the drug.


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 15,446 Americans died from heroin overdose between 2000 and 2016, and the mortality rates are increasing. Heroin abuse has been further fueled by a rise in prescription opioid abuse, studies show that opioid pain reliever users are 40 times more likely to abuse heroin. The first formulation of the heroin vaccine was developed in 2013 by a team led by Kim D. Janda, Ph.D., the Ely R. Callaway Jr.. It has been shown to be effective and safe in both mouse and non-human primate models. Researchers from the Scripps Research Institute have achieved a major milestone toward designing a safe and effective vaccine to both treat heroin addiction and block lethal overdose of the drug. The study findings were published in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics.

Vaccine to treat heroin addiction and block lethal overdose of the drug. 

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The vaccine works by training the immune system antibodies to recognize and bind to heroin molecules, blocking the drug from reaching the brain to cause a “high.” The heroin molecule does not naturally prompt an antibody response, so researchers attach it to a carrier protein that alerts the immune system to start making antibodies. Scientists also add an ingredient called an adjuvant to the vaccine, which boosts the immune response and makes the vaccine more effective. In this study, the research team investigated how 20 different carrier protein/adjuvant combinations worked, including shelf stability based on temperature and storage time and whether the formulation was a liquid or powder. They have shown that the vaccine is safe and effective in animal models, stable under clinical conditions and reliant on an already-approved adjuvant.

Research associate Candy S. Hwang said, “We believe that a heroin vaccine would be tremendously beneficial for people who have a heroin substance use disorder but have found difficulty in trying to quit”.


More Information: Candy S Hwang et al. Enhancing Efficacy and Stability of an Anti-Heroin Vaccine: Examination of Antinociception, Opioid Binding Profile, and Lethality, Molecular Pharmaceutics (2018). DOI: 10.1021/acs.molpharmaceut.7b00933


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