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Vaccines to prevent fentanyl, heroin overdose close to human trials

Date: 4.9.2023 

Opioids – especially synthetic opioids – are the main driver of drug-related overdose deaths. The availability of drugs like heroin and fentanyl continues to feed the problem of opioid dependence and places users at risk of death. They’re also difficult drugs to quit.

Kredit: Wikimedia Commons, US DEA.While the streets are unlikely to ever be clear of drugs like heroin and fentanyl – and, even if they were, they’d probably be replaced by other, equally damaging drugs – researchers at the University of Montana (UM) are close to trialing the next best thing in tackling the opioid epidemic: vaccines to prevent fentanyl and heroin overdose and aid in treating opioid dependence.

The development of the vaccines began with Marco Pravetoni, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington, who, along with his research team, has been working on vaccines against opioids for more than 10 years. “Our vaccines are designed to neutralize the target opioid while sparing critical medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, naltrexone and naloxone, which are used in the treatment of opioid addiction and reversal of overdose,” said Pravetoni.

Pravetoni’s team is responsible for developing haptens, small molecules that, when combined with a larger carrier such as a protein, elicit the production of antibodies against target opioids.

“We anticipate testing our vaccines in humans in early 2024,” Jay Evans, who directs the UM Center for Translational Medicine, said. “The first vaccine will target heroin, followed shortly thereafter with a fentanyl vaccine in phase 1 clinical trials. Once we establish safety and efficacy in these first clinical trials, we hope to advance a combined multivalent vaccine targeting both heroin and fentanyl.”

Image source: Wikimedia Commons, US DEA.





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