Researchers developing a “heroin vaccine” that blocks overdoses and prevents addiction announced Wednesday the drug is nearly ready for human trials.
Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) published their findings in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics, which shows the anti-addiction vaccine is safe when administered to animals and stays stable at room temperature for at least 30-days. The vaccine works by conditioning immune system antibodies to attach to heroin molecules, preventing the molecules from reaching a user’s brain, reports Science Daily.
The process binds the heroin molecule to a carrier protein that sparks the production of antibodies by the immune system. The formulation also includes an adjuvant, which helps boost the overall response of the immune system to the vaccine. The researchers tested 20 different combinations of carrier proteins and adjuvant on mice over the course of the trials.
“The heroin vaccine is one step closer to clinical evaluation,” Dr. Candy Hwang, lead author of the research, said in the the journal Molecular Pharmaceuticals, according to Science Daily. “Our goal was to prepare a vaccine that could be advanced to clinical trials. As such, we were looking for the best combination of ‘hapten’ (the heroin molecule), carrier protein and adjuvant to keep the vaccine both stable for transport and storage but still efficacious.”
The researchers say that by blocking heroin users from feeling high they will be less likely to seek further heroin and relapse. The scientists also found evidence in the trials that the “heroin vaccine” formulation can protect users against fatal overdoses, reports MPR.
Drug overdoses, fueled by substances like heroin and fentanyl, are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under age 50, killing more than 64,000 people in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioid overdoses made up a staggering 66 percent of all drug overdose deaths in 2016, surpassing the annual number of lives lost to breast cancer.
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