It was announced on Tuesday, that the scientists at the military’s Walter Reed Army Institute of Research created a heroin vaccine that can obstruct the euphoric effects of opioids in the brain without hindering other therapies in the battle against addiction. If the vaccine provides evidence of this in people, the opioid epidemic could come to an end.
The vaccine was co-developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute on Drug Abuse, and functions by generating antibodies that prevent heroin from crossing the blood-brain barrier. The research revealed that the vaccine also produces antibodies against commonly abused substances that include hydrocodone, oxycodone, and codeine.
One of the largest challenges of creating an anti-opioid treatment is verifying it does not interfere with other treatments that are already being used, for instance methadone, buprenorphine or naltrexone. The study did not find a cross-reaction between the vaccine and those compounds, nor with naloxone.
“Although we are still in the early phase, this study suggests that vaccination can be used together with standard therapies to prevent the withdrawal and craving symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal,” said Gary Matyas, chief of adjuvants and formulations for the U.S. Military Research Program.
Nearly one hundred Americans die daily from opioid abuse, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Efforts to combat the epidemic assort from developing alternative pain relievers to seeking other methods to reverse addiction. A new method to target pain relief recently demonstrated is a combination that drives down pain signals by increasing the production of the brain chemicals anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol, as well as “mu opioid agonists” which relieve pain without generating an addictive tendency.
There is a large amount of research efforts that concentrate on blocking the euphoric effects of opioids on the brain. The Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute won a grant from the NIH to develop a drug that targets metabotropic glutamate receptor 2 (mGlu2), believed to remove the influence of opioids on environmental cues that motivate addiction.
Stopping opioids from reaching the brain is the primary goal of the vaccine underdevelopment at Walter Reed.