Recovering addicts may have a new tool helping them stay on track as a heroin vaccine enters a preclinical phase.
The National Institutes of Health National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) awarded researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) the prestigious Translational Avant-Garde Award. The award’s two year, $1.6 million grant will fund preclinical studies for a potential heroin vaccine. There is a possible additional three years of funding attached to the award.
Heroin use and heroin overdose deaths have been growing across the country and law enforcement seizures of heroin have nearly doubled in the past five years.
“There are a lot of people and families affected by heroin addiction,” said Kim Janda, the Ely R. Callaway Jr. Professor of Chemistry and member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at TSRI, in a statement. Janda will lead the new project.
Here’s how the vaccine works: it trains the immune system’s antibodies to spot and bind to heroin molecules. By doing so, the vaccine stops the brain from reaching a high by blocking the drug’s active products. Scientists believe that without the high, recovering drug addicts will be way less likely to relapse. Janda and his fellow researchers developed the vaccine in 2013.
In the next phase of the process, TSRI researchers will be working with collaborators from Virginia Commonwealth University and Molecular Express, Inc. to test, refine and optimize the manufacturing processes.
Janda said he hopes he can develop a similar vaccine for other abused opioid drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone. After this phase, the vaccine may head to clinical trials and potential approval later down the road from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.