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Vaccine Against Fatal Opioid Drug Overdose

Vaccine Against Fatal Opioid Drug Overdose

Written by Amrita Surendranath, B.Sc, M.Sc.
Medically Reviewed by 
The Medindia Medical Review Team on November 25, 2016 at 6:15 PM
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  • Opioid drug overdose has been in the news with death of celebrities including music sensations Michael Jackson and Prince.
  • Researchers from The Scripps Research Institute have developed a vaccine that prevents the opioid drug molecules from reaching the brain.
  • In the study, the vaccine increased the fatal dosage of the drug and increased the time taken for the drug action, providing a window period of further medical assistance to reach the patient.

A vaccine that decreases the risk of fatal overdose of opioid drugs by decreasing their pain numbing effects has been developed by researchers from The Scripps Research Institute. The opioid drugs against which the vaccine is being tested are oxycodone and hydroxycodone.

Kim. D. Janda who is a junior professor of Chemistry and a member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology said"We saw both blunting of the drug's effects and, remarkably, prevention of drug lethality. The protection against overdose death was unforeseen but clearly of enormous potential clinical benefit."

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Vaccine Against Fatal Opioid Drug Overdose

Opioid Overdose
  • Opioid overdose deaths are a major cause of concern in the U.S.
  • There were 28,000 deaths due to opioid overdose in 2014.
  • A prescription opioid is the reason for overdose in nearly half of the cases
  • 48,000 men died of prescription drug overdose during the period 1999 and 2010
Opioid drugs interact with nerve cells of the brain and produce pleasurable effects and also provide pain relief. Adolescents are enticed into using opioid drugs for their after effects by their friends. Soon after they become addicted to their effects and become chronic users of opioid drugs, especially heroin. A considerable number of deaths are caused by addiction to opioid drugs.

Women are other vulnerable segments of society where opioid drugs may be prescribed to relieve pain but women tend to use for longer than men and get addicted to these drugs faster than men.

Opioid Overdose Vaccine

The opioid drugs reach the receptors of the nerve cells of the brain and provide pain relief and a feeling of ecstasy. For the opioid overdose vaccine, a signature opioid structure is mimicked and added along with another molecule to initiate an immune response. The body's immune cells are then activated and remove the opioid drug molecules that are in circulation.

Advantage of This Vaccine Against Opioid Drugs:
  • The antibodies that are designed against the opioid drugs, seek out and remove the drug molecules from circulation.
  • The drug molecules are prevented from reaching the brain and there will be no drug effects like feeling of ecstasy associated with the drug use.
  • Previous opioid drug therapies altered brain chemistry but this current vaccine under trial removes the drug from circulation and does not affect the brain.
  • If this vaccine is found to be effective, a large number of people who overdose on drugs accidentally can be prevented from a fatal drug reaction.
  • The laboratory tests showed that mice injected with the vaccine did not show symptoms associated with opioid drug use like pain relief.
Less Susceptible to Overdose: Mice that were injected with this vaccine could tolerate doses of opioid drugs that were found to be toxic earlier. Mice that died due to high toxicity did so after a long time, extending the window period. This could be useful in terms of human, where an extension will aid in reaching the patient to the hospital.

Long Period of Action: The drug remained in the mice for a period of 60 days, till the study lasted. The researchers believe that the vaccine could provide longer periods of protection.

Cody J. Wenthur, a research associate with the Janda laboratory who is also co-author of the study said "The vaccine approach stops the drug before it even gets to the brain," "It's like a preemptive strike."

The first author Atsushi Kimishima who is also a research associate in the Janda laboratory said "Our goal was to create a vaccine that mirrored the drug's natural structure. Clearly this tactic provided a broadly useful opioid deterrent."

Future Studies:

The vaccine that was trialed in this study is not the first to be studied but it is one of the best representations of the opioid drug structure. The antibodies bound to the drug molecules and they remain in the system for a long period of time, which is the only significant drawback. Further studies are required to understand the dosage and schedule of the vaccine.

  1. Injury Prevention & Control: Opioid Overdose - (https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/)
  2. Opioid Addiction - (http://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf)
Source: Medindia

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