Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have developed a vaccine that blocks the pain-numbing effects of the opioid drugs oxycodone (oxy) and hydrocodone (hydro) in animal models. The vaccine also appears to decrease the risk of fatal opioid overdose, a growing cause of death in the United States.
This is another example of the current opiophobia. They propose a method to prevent opioids from functioning to make them unattractive to addicts without considering the possible negative ramifications.
However… I wonder what would happen if a person using the vaccine suffered a terrible accident with multiple severe injuries leading to intense pain.
There may be no method to override this vaccine in an emergency.
“We saw both blunting of the drug’s effects and, remarkably, prevention of drug lethality,” said Kim D. Janda, the Ely R. Callaway Jr. Professor of Chemistry and member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at TSRI.
“The protection against overdose death was unforeseen but clearly of enormous potential clinical benefit.”
How It Works
The new oxy/hydro vaccine takes advantage of the immune system’s ability to recognize, seek out and neutralize invaders.
Opioids were designed to reach receptors in the brain, causing pain reduction and feelings of euphoria.
For their vaccine, the researchers combined a signature opioid structure with a molecule to trigger an immune response.
When injected, the vaccine teaches the immune system to bind to the drug molecule and remove it from circulation.
The vaccine-derived antibodies were tailored by TSRI scientists to seek out the prescription drug and block the opioid from reaching the brain, potentially depriving a person of the “reward” of consuming the drug, Janda explained.
The scientists believe a vaccine approach could have an advantage over current opioid addiction therapies because it would not alter brain chemistry like many of today’s anti-addiction therapies do.
“The vaccine approach stops the drug before it even gets to the brain,” said study co-author Cody J. Wenthur, a research associate in the Janda laboratory. “It’s like a preemptive strike.”
Lab Tests Show Promise
The researchers found that their vaccine design blocked pain perception of oxy/hydro use in mice. Indeed, those given the vaccine did not display the usual symptoms of a drug high [or pain relief, ed.], such as ignoring pain and discomfort.
In further tests, the rodents also appeared less susceptible to fatal overdose
The scientists also discovered that the vaccine remained effective in mice for the entire 60-day study period, and they believe it has the potential to last even longer.
“Our goal was to create a vaccine that mirrored the drug’s natural structure. Clearly this tactic provided a broadly useful opioid deterrent,”
The study did raise some new questions. For example, researchers found that once antibodies bound to the drug, the drug stayed in the body—though neutralized—for a long time.
Here’s the actual study (abstract only):
An Advance in Prescription Opioid Vaccines: Overdose Mortality Reduction and Extraordinary Alteration of Drug Half-Life – ACS Chemical Biology (ACS Publications) November 17, 2016, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prescription opioids (POs) such as oxycodone and hydrocodone are highly effective medications for pain management, yet they also present a substantial risk for abuse and addiction.
The consumption of POs has been escalating worldwide, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths due to overdose each year.
Pharmacokinetic strategies based upon vaccination present an attractive avenue to suppress PO abuse.
Herein, the preparation of two active PO vaccines is described that were found to elicit high-affinity antiopioid antibodies through a structurally congruent drug-hapten design.
Administration of these vaccines resulted in a significant blockade of opioid analgesic activity, along with an unprecedented increase in drug serum half-life and protection against lethal overdose.
Instead of spending any more research money on this, we should be spending it on a vaccine against a much more common scourge of our society: drunkenness.
Perhaps what we need the most is a vaccine against opiophobia.