The University of Montana (UM) and its partner institutions are working on developing vaccines to prevent overdosing on fentanyl and heroin. Human trials for both vaccines are expected to begin in early 2024.
UM researcher Jay Evans, who leads a campus center dedicated to vaccine development, highlighted the uniqueness of these vaccines. Unlike traditional vaccines that generate an antibody response against bacteria or viruses, these vaccines are designed to generate an antibody response against drugs.
The vaccines aim to help individuals addicted to fentanyl and heroin quit and prevent overdoses. In 2021, over 106,000 drug overdoses were reported in the United States, with 71,000 attributed to synthetic opioids like fentanyl. In Montana alone, 113 people died from opioid overdose in 2021, including 62 from fentanyl.
The vaccine project at UM received funding from a $33.4 million contract with the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The partnership between Evans and Marco Pravetoni, formerly with the University of Minnesota and now with the University of Washington, was catalyzed by the NIH. The vaccines will include an ingredient from Pravetoni’s team that elicits the production of antibodies against the target opioids, as well as an “adjuvant” from the UM research team that enhances the vaccine’s effectiveness.
UM, UW, the University of Minnesota, and Columbia University will all collaborate on different aspects of the project, with Columbia University conducting the clinical trials. If all goes well, the vaccines could potentially be on the market by 2028.
Evans emphasized that while the vaccines may help people with addictions, they should not be seen as a frontline therapy. He stressed the importance of reducing the stigma surrounding drug use, as addiction is a disease and quitting can be incredibly challenging. The vaccine works by tricking the immune system into recognizing the drugs as foreign and generating an immune response against them. This response prevents the drugs from crossing the blood-brain barrier, reducing the risk of an overdose.
The first phase of human trials will focus on safety, ensuring that the vaccines do not produce adverse effects when challenged with fentanyl or heroin.
In addition to the fentanyl and heroin vaccines, UM’s Center for Translational Medicine and Inimmune, its corporate partner, are also working on vaccines for various other diseases, including SARS-CoV-2, influenza, tuberculosis, and cancer.
Source: University of Montana
– Fentanyl: A synthetic opioid pain reliever that is extremely potent and often illicitly used.
– Heroin: An illegal opioid drug derived from morphine.
– NIH (National Institutes of Health): A research agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, responsible for supporting biomedical and public health research.
– Adjuvant: A substance added to a vaccine to enhance its immune response.
– Blood-brain barrier: A protective barrier between the bloodstream and the brain that prevents certain substances from entering the brain.