Successful Monkey Trials Make Way For Potential Vaccine Against Heroin

The success with monkeys has given researchers hope that this could work on humans.

Credit: Cuban Medical Assistance

For the first time ever, a vaccine against an opioid has successfully passed the stage of testing in which the vaccine was tested on rhesus monkeys and deemed effective. While many vaccines exist in the world, those that target a specific drug rather than a contracted illness are rare if not non-existent. Researchers from the Scripps Research Institute created the vaccine in hopes of treating those that are addicted to heroin and suspect that their model can even be adapted to fight other opioids and create other vaccines.

The vaccine works by training the immune system to produce antibodies against heroin, which should prevent the user to experiencing the high that heroin gives addicts. It does this be exposing the immune system to part of the heroin molecule’s structure so that when heroin is introduced into the system, the new antibodies will target it and neutralize the molecules.

In the trials, the rhesus monkeys did not feel a euphoria from heroin because the heroin molecules were blocked before they could reach the brain. Without the euphoria of the drug, heroin addicts could be treated for their addiction and not be compelled to relapse because they no longer get high from the drug.

“This validates our previous rodent data and positions our vaccine in a favorable light for anticipated clinical evaluation,” study leader Kim Janda said in a statement. “We believe this vaccine candidate will prove safe for human trials.”

Four monkeys were given three doses of the vaccine and three of those monkeys had an effective immune response, which was most useful during the first month after vaccination but was found to last for over eight months. Two of the four monkeys tested were pre-vaccinated in a previous study, which occurred seven months prior to this one, and showed a much higher response during this second round of treatment. This elevates the hopes that the vaccine can work in the long-term and provide immunity to heroin.

The results of this study were published in Journal of the American Chemical Society and only focused on heroin, but similar approaches for a variety of other dogs could work as well. The next step for these scientists is to get clinical trials on humans approved in order to determine its effectiveness in our systems, but researchers say they are confident that their request will be approved. If this were to become a reality, the ideas behind addiction to substances would completely change and likely inspire movements to research other avenues of vaccination to decrease addiction, homelessness, and death.

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