Scientists may have found the answer to the opioid crisis that has devastated the lives of millions. A new study by scientists at the University of Houston has found a ‘game-changer’ vaccine — currently in development — that can target and block dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl from entering the brain.
The science and other stuff to know
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s approximately 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, is typically used to treat patients with severe pain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 150 people die every day from overdoses associated with synthetic opioids. And over 103,000 people died of the overdose in the 12 months ending last May. This number is projected to exceed 1.2 million in the U.S. and Canada by 2029 if no action is taken to tackle the growing epidemic.
Thankfully, a team of researchers at the University of Houston is developing a vaccine that allows the body to generate anti-fentanyl antibodies which can prevent the drug from reaching the brain. In a study published in the journal Pharmaceutics, the research team claims their new vaccine could thus eliminate any opioid’s euphoric effects — by allowing the drug to be eliminated from the body via the kidneys. Notably, researchers also found no adverse side effects of the vaccine.
Scientists believe this discovery holds major implications for the ongoing opioid epidemic. According to the study authors, “this vaccine could serve as a relapse prevention agent for people trying to quit using fentanyl.”
“We believe these findings could have a significant impact on a very serious problem plaguing society for years – opioid misuse,” said lead study author Colin Haile, a research associate professor of psychology at UH and the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation and Statistics (TIMES), and a founding member of the UH Drug Discovery Institute, in a university press release.
Haile added that the vaccine “didn’t cross-react with other opioids like morphine.” Thus, a person vaccinated for fentanyl “could still be treated” with other drugs.
In the new study, researchers conducted trials on rats. The team hopes to start developing clinical-grade vaccines for human trials in the coming months. According to the team, minimal side effects are expected in future human clinical trials.