Scientists may have developed a vaccine against fentanyl
Scientists believe they have developed a vaccine that will block fentanyl from entering the brain and prevent users from taking the drug – an advance hailed as a “game changer” in the fight against the opioid overdose epidemic.
In tests on rats, the vaccine “produced significant amounts” of anti-fentanyl antibodies that bound to the deadly synthetic opioid, according to the study published in the journal Pharmaceutics.
This prevented the drug “from entering the brain, allowing it to be eliminated from the body via the kidneys,” said lead author Colin Haile from the University of Houston Drug Discovery Institute.
“So the individual will not feel the euphoric effects and can ‘get back on the bandwagon’ to sobriety,” Haile said, predicting that this “could have a significant impact on a very serious problem that has plagued society for years.”
Fentanyl is up to 50 times stronger than heroinand a dose of just 2 milligrams—the size of two grains of rice—can prove fatal.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionmore than 71,000 Americans died of fentanyl overdoses last year — nearly 195 a day — by far the largest cause of the 107,622 fatal overdoses overall.
Preclinical results of the vaccine “show efficacy in neutralizing” fentanyl, making it “a potential therapeutic for [overuse] and overdose in humans,” the study said.
Another University of Texas professor involved in the study, Therese Kosten, called it a potential “game changer.”
“Fentanyl use and overdose is a particular treatment challenge that is currently not being adequately addressed,” Kosten said.
Currently used treatments are short-lived and require multiple doses, Kosten said, while a vaccine would also work effectively as a “relapse prevention agent,” according to the study.
The team plans to begin clinical vaccine production in the coming months with plans to begin human trials.
The researchers said the vaccine did not cause any adverse side effects in the rats it was used on and said the positive results of blocking fentanyl came from low, safe doses.
They also “expect minimal side effects in clinical trials” because the main components are already widely used and tested.
Also, the antibodies were shown to be specific for fentanyl, meaning “the vaccinated person could still be treated for pain relief with other opioids,” Haile noted.