New Vaccine to Control Fentanyl Overdose and Addiction

According to a study presented in journal Angewandte Chemie, individuals who have an addiction to harmful designer opioids may soon be capable of minimizing their condition and avoiding fatal overdoses with the help of a new vaccine.

A wide range of synthetic opioids is accessible on the black market, and their use is surging. Being unlawful, users have no way of understanding how strong these medicines are, can result in fatal overdoses.

Fentanyl, a painkiller 50-500 times more powerful than morphine, is usually mixed with or used in place of heroin by drug dealers.

Illegal laboratories have been tweaking the molecular structure of fentanyl to prevent detection by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), creating versions such as “China white” and acetyl fentanyl, recently connected to a number of deaths in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.

As per the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of overdose deaths including opioids doubled from 2000-2014, partly, it is believed, due to the accessibility of fentanyl and its variants.

The effects of fentanyl include euphoria, drowsiness, lethargy and mellowness, but tolerance develops quickly, so a dose that produces a high one week will most likely not offer the same high, even a few days later.

While naloxone is efficient against opioid overdose, and methadone is used to deal with addiction, these do not work for everyone, and many individuals relapse.

New vaccine triggers immune response against synthetic opioids

Researchers from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in La Jolla, CA, in an effort to “fill the gap,” have conducted animal studies of a vaccine that stops fentanyl from reaching the brain.

The new vaccine consists of a molecule that copies fentanyl’s core structure, and it performs by training the immune system to develop antibodies to neutralize the drug. If someone attempts to get high from fentanyl or similar substances after having the vaccine, their antibodies will combine to the drug and protect against it from reaching the brain.

Investigators hope that by preventing the capability to feel a high, the vaccine could prevent the drug-seeking and drug-taking behavior.

Antibody analyses demonstrated that the immune system of mice continued to neutralize fentanyl for various months, after getting 3 vaccinations at 2-week intervals, like a series of booster shots.

Vaccination also seemed to avoid “high” behavior among fentanyl-addicted mice, for example, they could no longer ignore the discomfort. It took 30 times the normal dose of fentanyl for the drug to stimulate neural circuits following the therapy.

The investigators conclude that antibodies produced by the vaccine neutralized the lethal levels of fentanyl and provided protection against overdose.

This is the first time, they say, that a vaccine has been capable of countering lethal doses of any drug of abuse.

The vaccine seems to be to protect against most fentanyl derivatives and does not appear to interact with other drug classes, like as oxycodone, so that even after vaccination, an individual would still be capable of using specific painkillers for medical purposes.

Kim Janda, professor of chemistry and member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at TSRI, states that:

“We prefer to stay one step forward of these clandestine laboratories making unlawful opioids for black market demand. The significance of this new vaccine is that it can prevent the toxic effects of this drug, a first in the field.”

Next, the scientists hope to design an even more potent vaccine, probably incorporating anti-fentanyl and anti-heroin effects, to protect individuals who abuse variations that combine the two.