Fentanyl, a highly potent opioid that has been showing up in heroin, may have a new barrier – a vaccine developed by researchers at The Scripps Research Institute that keeps the drug from reaching the brain and protects from lethal overdoses.
The development and preclinical research in animal models could provide a new path to curbing addiction and a prevent overdoses, which have spiked in recent years in part because of availability of fentanyl and fentanyl variants
Since 2000 there has been a 200 percent increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids in part because of illicitly manufactured synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which can be taken combined with heroin or on its own.
For the study, Janda’s team injected mice with a series of vaccine shots, each two weeks apart.
The new vaccine utilizes a molecule that simulates fentanyl’s core structure. The vaccine harnesses the power of the body’s own immune system, “training” it to produce antibodies that neutralize the drug.
Researchers examined antibodies in the blood and found that the antibodies were binding to the drug to prevent it from reaching the brain, and the immune system was able to neutralize fentanyl for months after the last injection. It also prevented mice from getting a “high” off of the opioid.
More than 30-fold the normal dose of the drug was needed to trigger neural activity in vaccinated mice, and the antibodies produced by the vaccine neutralized these lethal levels of fentanyl, protecting against overdose.
According to a press release the potential vaccine would work against all fentanyl derivatives and does not react to other drug classes, such as oxycodone.
Up next the researchers will look to create a more powerful vaccine that could potentially work against both fentanyl and heroin.