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Preclinical Vaccine May Block Euphoric, Addictive Effects of Opioids

December 22, 2017
An experimental heroin analog may provide a new tool in the prevention of opioid addiction and improvement of withdrawal symptoms.

A potential heroin vaccine induced antibodies that prevented the drug from crossing the blood-brain barrier in preclinical animal studies, according to researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute’s military research program.1

“The vaccine aims to block the euphoria and addictive effects” of heroin, Gary Matyas, PhD, chief of adjuvants and formulations for the US Military Research Program, said in a press release.1

The experimental vaccine produced antibodies against other commonly misused opioids, including hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone, and codeine, according to the study by Sulima et al, by dampening the impact of heroin at a high-dose.2

Further, researchers found that the antibodies did not cross-react with therapeutic compounds such as buprenorphine and naltrexone, and that “methadone, tramadol, fentanyl, sufentanil, nalbuphine, and buprenorphine did not bind to the antibodies, indicating that they could be used if acute pain treatment is required for emergency use in vaccinated patients,” according to the release.1 Researchers also found that there was no binding to first-line pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen.

“Although we are still in the early phase, this study suggests that vaccination can be used together with standard therapies to prevent the withdrawal and craving symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal,” said Dr. Matyas in the release.

The vaccine includes a potent adjuvant to stimulate the immune system known as the Army Liposome Formulation, which was also developed by researchers at Walter Reed Army Research Institute in collaboration with intramural scientists at the Drug Design and Synthesis Section, Molecular Targets, and Medications Discovery Branch, NIDA.


Last updated on: December 22, 2017
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