Addiction Help: Vaccinating Against Heroin Abuse and Overdose

New Formulation Returns Encouraging Results

In what is described as a major milestone, researchers from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) report that they have successfully formulated a new vaccine that can treat heroin addiction and prevent lethal overdose. The formulation is shelf-stable for at least 30 days and has been proven safe in animal model testing. According to Candy Hwang, PhD, research associate at TSRI and first author of the report, “The heroin vaccine is one step closer to clinical evaluation.” The vaccine triggers immune system antibodies to recognize and bind to heroin molecules, thereby preventing them from reaching the brain and provoking a “high”. According to the authors, this should provide a major advance in forestalling relapse among recovering addicts. The findings appear this week in the journal Molecular Pharmaceuticals.

Given the documented association between prescription opioid abuse and heroin use, the vaccine could represent a significant advance in combatting this aspect of the national health crisis of opioid abuse and misuse. In their research on mouse models, TSRI scientists isolated various combinations of carrier protein and adjuvants that, when added to the vaccine formulation, kept it stable for storage and transport while maintaining effectiveness. A combination of the carrier protein tetanus toxoid and adjuvants alum and CpG ODN were found to fulfill this objective. The authors state that their formulation is close to readiness for clinical testing on humans. Dr Hwang summarized: “We believe that a heroin vaccine would be tremendously beneficial for people who have a heroin substance use disorder but have found difficulty in trying to quit.”

Read a news story about the discovery.

The journal abstract may be read here.

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