Researchers at the University of Houston announced a breakthrough vaccine that could prevent the effects of fentanyl from reaching the brain, eliminating its ability to be fatal.
“We believe these findings could have a significant impact on a very serious problem plaguing society for years – opioid misuse. Our vaccine is able to generate anti-fentanyl antibodies that bind to the consumed fentanyl and prevent it from entering the brain,” University of Houston associate professor of psychology Colin Haile said in a press release Tuesday.
Haile’s comments come after the university released a study about a potential fentanyl vaccine, a welcomed anecdote amid a crisis that has claimed the lives of thousands of Americans.
The lead researcher said that the vaccine was developed for people who are addicted to fentanyl and are trying to quit, noting that the vaccine can both eliminate the euphoric effect and the fatal effect of the drug.
“The individual will not feel the euphoric effects and can ‘get back on the wagon’ to sobriety,” Haile said.
The vaccine could also benefit people who are accidentally exposed to fentanyl such as police and other first responders, who have reported overdoses after responding to fentanyl-related calls.
According to the press release, the vaccine did not cause any adverse side effects for rats in lab studies, opening the door for clinical trials with humans soon.
Haile said that the vaccine is designed specifically for fentanyl, meaning patients could still be treated for pain with other opioids after they have received the vaccine.
“The anti-fentanyl antibodies were specific to fentanyl and a fentanyl derivative and did not cross-react with other opioids, such as morphine. That means a vaccinated person would still be able to be treated for pain relief with other opioids,” Haile said.
Fentanyl has become a leading driver of the U.S. opioid crisis in recent year, with it often being added to other street drugs and being potentially fatal in small doses.
The development of a vaccine specifically meant to target fentanyl helps solve that problem, said Houston professor of psychology Therese Kosten, who called the vaccine a “game changer.”
“Fentanyl use and overdose is a particular treatment challenge that is not adequately addressed with current medications because of its pharmacodynamics and managing acute overdose with the short-acting naloxone is not appropriately effective as multiple doses of naloxone are often needed to reverse fentanyl’s fatal effects,” said Kosten, a senior author of the study.