Researchers Hope to Test Heroin Vaccine in Humans Soon

Thirty-four cases involved children ages 1 to 10; 41 patients not vaccinated against measles.
Researchers investigated 20 different carrier protein/adjuvant combinations.

A novel vaccine to treat heroin addiction and block lethal overdose is nearly ready for human testing, according to researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI). The findings have been published in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics

Lead author of the study, Candy S. Hwang, PhD, explained, “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 heroin vaccine works by training immune system antibodies to recognize and bind to heroin molecules, ultimately preventing the drug from reaching the brain to cause a “high.” By blocking the “high” sensation, recovering addicts may not be as motivated to relapse into using the drug, the researchers explained. To prompt an antibody response, the researchers attached the heroin molecules to carrier proteins. In addition, an adjuvant was added to enhance the immune response and make the vaccine more effective. 

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Experiments conducted on rodent models demonstrated that the optimal vaccine formulation consisted of the tetanus toxoid (TT) protein with aluminum and cytosine-guanine oligodeoxynucleotide 1826 (CpG ODN) adjuvants. This vaccine formulation elicited strong anti-heroin antibody titers and blocked heroin-induced antinociception. Moreover, immunized mice exhibited significant protection from fatal heroin doses, “suggesting that this vaccine formulation is suitable for mitigating the harmful effects of heroin, even following month-long storage at room temperature,” added Dr. Hwang.

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