The opioid epidemic: could a vaccine prevent addiction and overdose?

Written by Ebony Torrington, Future Science Group

Scientists at Scripps Research (CA, USA) have created a vaccine containing monoclonal antibodies that could be successful in treating the effects of many synthetic opioids, including carfentanil.
The research team, led by Kim Janda from Scripps Research, looked at the ability of newly developed opioid antibodies in vaccines on animals. Janda and her team tested the antibodies using a pain response experiment, in which a heated beam of light is applied to a mouse’s tail. The time taken for the mouse to remove its tail from the beam was then recorded.

Janda and the research team found that mice administered with synthetic opioids, such as carfentanil, took a much longer time to withdraw their tails from the beam compared with mice that hadn’t been given synthetic opioids.

Once the mice had been given the vaccine, the time taken for them to remove their tails from the beam was normalized. This suggested that the vaccine had worked to block the analgesic effects of the opioids.

The vaccine was then tested to find out if it could prevent against lethal overdose. Mice were administered with the antibody vaccine followed by a dose of fentanyl, which would be fatal in other non-vaccinated animals. It was revealed that all vaccinated mice were protected from overdose.

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Currently, the team are developing human antibodies against synthetic opioids and in the future are looking to test their effectiveness. The vaccine could be used to protect people at risk of coming into contact with the drugs.

“When it comes to the very powerful opioid carfentanil the current treatment for this opioid’s induced lethality does not work very well – it has no staying power,” said Janda. “Antibodies persist longer, and thus have enormous promise for addressing both opioid addiction as well as overdose.”

Janda concluded that: “These antibodies could be used to protect police, EMTs, and other first responders from inadvertent acute fentanyl exposure. A canine version might even one day be used to protect drug-sniffing dogs.”

Source: EurekAlert. Vaccine could help address the opioid epidemic. Press release: