News & ExpertsNewsFentanyl Vaccine May Be Breakthrough for Opioid Epidemic

Fentanyl Vaccine May Be Breakthrough for Opioid Epidemic

Researchers led by the University of Houston have developed a fentanyl vaccine that targets the synthetic opioid fentanyl, blocking the drug’s ability to enter the brain and thus eliminating its euphoric “high” when consumed. 

The vaccine could act as a prevention agent for people trying to quit opioids, making this a much needed breakthrough for the opioid epidemic, a health crisis that stems from the rapid increase in the use of prescription and non-prescription opioid drugs since the 1990s.

While fentanyl is a synthetic drug, i.e., made in a laboratory, it is far from benign. Currently, synthetic opioids like fentanyl are the main driver of drug overdose deaths in the United States as 82% of deaths involve them. Additionally, fentanyl acts on the same receptors in the brain that painkillers like heroin and morphine do, and it’s about 50 to 100 times stronger. This means that even a dose as small as two milligrams can be deadly.

Fentanyl Vaccine

Fentanyl Vaccine Study Findings

Published in the journal Pharmaceutics, the study’s findings show the fentanyl vaccine may have a significant impact on curtailing opioid misuse.

“Our vaccine is able to generate anti-fentanyl antibodies that bind to the consumed fentanyl, preventing it from entering the brain and allowing it to be eliminated out of the body via the kidneys, ” says lead author of the study Colin Haile. “This will allow an individual to not feel the euphoric effects and continue on to sobriety.”

The fentanyl vaccine was created using a derivative from E. coli bacteria to help boost immune response to the vaccine. An adjuvant molecule like this is critical for the effectiveness of anti-addiction vaccines such as this.
Moreover, the anti-fentanyl antibodies were “specific to fentanyl and fentanyl derivative and did not cross react with other opioids,” says Haile. This means that a person who receives the vaccine will still be able to continue treatment for pain relief with other types of opioids.

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