Vaccines have now been made to deal with opioid abuse and fatal overdoses. The step comes in after both of these two issues were considered as major a public health emergency in the United States. The findings of this study are published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.
A team of scientists from the University of Minnesota Medical School and Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation at Hennepin Healthcare is developing vaccines against heroin and Prescription Opioids, such as oxycodone and fentanyl. These vaccines function by using the immune system to produce molecules (antibodies) that target, bind, and prevent opioids from reaching the brain (the site of drug action).
The research team's pre-clinical studies were published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, Scientific Reports, and PLOS ONE. The results support future clinical testing of these vaccines in human patients. Key findings include:
- heroin and oxycodone vaccines are highly immunogenic in rodents;
- heroin and oxycodone vaccines are highly effective and selective at reducing opioid distribution to brain and the subsequent behavioral effects of these targeted opioids
- oxycodone vaccine may be more effective in humans if oxycodone is administered orally;
- novel immunomodulators may offer a solution for improving vaccine efficacy.
Vaccination prevents addiction-relevant behaviors, including opioid self-administration that models human abuse patterns. These vaccines appear to be safe and may help in preventing opioid-induced respiratory depression, a hallmark of an opioid fatal overdose.
Importantly, vaccination does not prevent the use of currently approved addiction treatment medications such as methadone, naltrexone, buprenorphine, and naloxone.
The research team is also working on biologics against other opioid targets, such as fentanyl, and developing more effective next-generation vaccine formulations.
"Opioid vaccines show promising pre-clinical efficacy, but the road from the laboratory to the clinic is still long," said Principal Investigator Marco Pravetoni, Ph.D., Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation senior investigator and associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School.