Experimental vaccine against synthetic opioids shows success in mice

A new vaccine is effective at preventing opioid overdose from fentanyl and carfentanil in rodents, according to a new study.  


Researchers have developed an experimental vaccine that they say may be able to prevent the bulk of deaths from opioid overdose. The study was conducted at Scripps Research, US. 

Lead researcher Dr Kim Janda and his team showed that their vaccine can blunt the deadly effects of fentanyl and the even more fatal carfentanil in rodents. 

“Synthetic opioids are not only extremely deadly, but also addictive and easy to manufacture, making them a formidable public health threat, especially when the coronavirus crisis is negatively impacting mental health,” said Janda. “We have shown it is possible to prevent these unnecessary deaths by eliciting antibodies that stop the drug from reaching the brain.”

Once in the brain, synthetic opioids trigger the body to slow down breathing. When too much of the drugs are consumed, breathing can stop altogether. In a series of experiments involving mice, the vaccines “sequestered” the potent drug molecules to keep them from interacting with the brain and body, thus thwarting dangerous respiratory symptoms.

“The respiratory depression data we show is phenomenal for both fentanyl and carfentanil, which brings us hope that this approach will work to treat a number of opioid-related maladies,” Janda said. “Unfortunately, the rise in carfentanil and fentanyl overdose incidents is placing further strain on already overwhelmed public health systems currently battling a pandemic. We look forward to continuing our vaccine research and translating it to the clinic, where we can begin to make an impact on the opioid crisis.”

Janda envisions the vaccine being used in a number of scenarios, including emergency situations to treat overdoses, as a therapy for those with substance abuse disorder and as a means to protect military personnel who may be exposed to opioids as chemical weapons.

The findings from the study appear in ACS Chemical Biology.

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