Scientists believe they have developed a vaccine that will block fentanyl from entering the brain and prevent users from getting high – a breakthrough hailed as a “game changer” in the fight against the opioid overdose epidemic.
In tests with rats, the vaccine ‘produced significant amounts’ of anti-fentanyl antibodies that latched onto the deadly and addictive synthetic opioid, study finds printed in the journal Pharmaceuticals.
This prevented the drug “from entering the brain, allowing it to be eliminated from the body through the kidneys”, said lead author Colin Haile from the Drug Discovery Institute at the University of Houston.
“Thus, the individual won’t experience the euphoric effects and can ‘get back on the train’ back to sobriety,” Haile said, predicting that it “could have a significant impact on a very serious problem that has plagued society for years.” .
Fentanyl is up to 50 times stronger than heroinand a dose of just 2 milligrams – the size of two grains of rice – can prove fatal.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionMore than 71,000 Americans died from fentanyl overdoses last year — nearly 195 a day — by far the leading cause of the 107,622 fatal overdoses.
The vaccine’s preclinical results “demonstrate its effectiveness in neutralizing” fentanyl, making it “therapeutic potential for [overuse] and overdose in humans,” the study states.
Another University of Texas professor involved in the study, Therese Kosten, called it a potential “game changer”.
“Fentanyl use and overdose pose a particular therapeutic challenge that is not adequately addressed with current medications,” Kosten said.
These treatments being used at the moment are short-lived and require multiple doses, Kosten said, while the vaccine would also work as a “relapse prevention agent,” according to the study.
The team expects to begin manufacturing clinical-grade vaccines in the coming months with plans to begin human trials.
The researchers said the vaccine caused no adverse side effects in the rats it was used on, and said the positive fentanyl blocking results came from low, safe doses.
They also “expect minimal side effects in clinical trials” because the main components are already widely used and tested.
Additionally, the antibodies were found to be specific to fentanyl, meaning “a vaccinated person could still be treated for pain relief with other opioids,” Haile noted.