Researchers test effectiveness of anti-opioid vaccine

December 6, 2018, Virginia Commonwealth University
Matthew Banks, Pharm.D., Ph.D. Credit: VCU

Virginia Commonwealth University researchers are testing a vaccine against opioid abuse developed by the Scripps Research Institute in California. The vaccine is meant to block the effects of heroin and fentanyl in patients with opioid use disorder.

The methodology of VCU's preclinical tests was recently featured in the journal Trends in Pharmacological Sciences. Lead author Matthew Banks, Pharm.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the VCU School of Medicine, also explains the workings of the vaccine, and reviews the landscape of opioid immunotherapy research and hurdles to vaccine development. The article is part of the journal's "Science & Society" series, which highlights pharmacological research efforts to combat the opioid crisis in language accessible to lay readers. Banks is currently in the process of submitting for peer review.

Researchers at the Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation and at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are testing other anti-heroin and anti-oxycodone vaccines, Banks said.

"Anti-opioid vaccines represent one promising research area for opioid use disorder, including relapse and overdose because they are mechanistically different from current FDA-approved therapeutics such as naloxone, methadone and naltrexone, which target opioid receptors," Banks writes. "The vaccines prompt an individual's body to generate anti-opioid antibodies."

The Scripps vaccine and other immunotherapies work by prompting the to make antibodies that prevent , such as heroin or fentanyl, from crossing the blood brain barrier into the central nervous system, blocking the effects of opioids.

"If a person injects heroin or fentanyl after they have been vaccinated, those antibodies are there to capture the drugs in the bloodstream, which should prevent people from getting high," Banks said.

Similar to how the flu vaccine triggers through exposure to flu viruses, opioid vaccines depend on some exposure to targeted molecules to produce an immune response. Opioid molecules do not naturally produce an immune response, so they are attached to clinically available carrier proteins, such as the tetanus vaccine, to prompt the immune system to start producing antibodies. Scientists also added a chemical called an adjuvant to the vaccine to boost immune response.

Banks' team is testing the efficacy of the and predicting how an immunized person might respond when faced with the choice of drug use or engaging with a nondrug reinforcer, such as work, friends or family.

"We develop the models to help move therapeutics along and then we collaborate with medicinal chemists who are generating new molecules to try to treat pain, and other collaborators developing novel therapeutics to treat ," Banks said. "We are working with the Scripps Research institute to take those tools through the scientific process to determine if they are going to be effective."

Explore further: Vaccines to treat opioid abuse and prevent fatal overdoses

More information: Matthew L. Banks et al, Immunopharmacotherapies for Treating Opioid Use Disorder, Trends in Pharmacological Sciences (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.tips.2018.08.001

Related Stories

Vaccines to treat opioid abuse and prevent fatal overdoses

April 11, 2018
Heroin and prescription opioid abuse and fatal overdoses are a public health emergency in the United States. Vaccines offer a potential new strategy to treat opioid abuse and prevent fatal opioid overdoses.

New vaccine technology shows promise as a tool to combat the opioid crisis

December 18, 2017
Researchers with the U.S. Military HIV Research Program at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) report that an experimental heroin vaccine induced antibodies that prevented the drug from crossing the blood-brain ...

Heroin vaccine blocks lethal overdose

February 14, 2018
Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have achieved a major milestone toward designing a safe and effective vaccine to both treat heroin addiction and block lethal overdose of the drug. Their research, published ...

Anti-heroin vaccine found effective in non-human primates

June 6, 2017
A vaccine developed at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) to block the "high" of heroin has proven effective in non-human primates. This is the first vaccine against an opioid to pass this stage of preclinical testing.

Fentanyl in more than half of opioid deaths in 10 states

October 27, 2017
A federal report says the powerful painkiller fentanyl was involved in more than half of the recent opioid overdose deaths in 10 states.

Recommended for you

Early physical therapy can reduce risk, amount of long-term opioid use, study finds

December 14, 2018
Patients who underwent physical therapy soon after being diagnosed with pain in the shoulder, neck, low back or knee were approximately 7 to 16 percent less likely to use opioids in the subsequent months, according to a new ...

Early postpartum opioids linked with persistent usage

December 14, 2018
Vanderbilt researchers have published findings indicating that regardless of whether a woman delivers a child by cesarean section or by vaginal birth, if they fill prescriptions for opioid pain medications early in the postpartum ...

Shortcut strategy for screening compounds with clinical potentials for drug development

December 4, 2018
Developing a new drug often takes years and costs hundreds of millions of dollars. A shortcut has now been reported in a study led by City University of Hong Kong (CityU), which can potentially reduce the time and costs of ...

Drug wholesalers drove fentanyl's deadly rise, report concludes

December 4, 2018
Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid implicated in nearly 29,000 overdose deaths in the United States last year, most likely spread because of heroin and prescription pill shortages, and also because it was cheaper for drug ...

Global review reports on administration of children's antibiotics

December 4, 2018
Researchers analyzing the sales of oral antibiotics for children in 70 high- and middle-income countries found that consumption varies widely from country to country with little correlation between countries' wealth and the ...

Opioid prescriptions from dentists linked to youth addiction risk

December 3, 2018
Teens and young adults who receive their initial opioid prescriptions from their dentists or oral surgeons are at increased risk for opioid addiction in the following year, a study from the Stanford University School of Medicine ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.