The fentanyl vaccine should be a game-changer:
HOUSTON– The end of the fentanyl crisis may be in sight, thanks to a team of researchers in Texas who say they have succeeded in developing a vaccine that could be a game-changer in the treatment of drug addiction.
A University of Houston-led team has developed what they say is a fentanyl vaccine that can block the synthetic opioid from entering the brain – essentially curing addiction by eliminating the euphoric high.
“There’s no question about it. We’ve developed something that’s a game-changer,” Dr. Colin Haile, associate research professor of psychology at UH and the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics (TIMES) told Fox News during a recent visit to the research facility.
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“It’s a completely different strategy to treat someone with an opioid use disorder.”
Their vaccine works in a totally different way, Dr. Haile said, from other treatments for opioid use disorder and overdose deaths.
It essentially produces antibodies, just like other vaccines produce these antibodies against a virus or bacteria.
Dr. Haile’s vaccine does the same by preventing fentanyl from entering the user’s brain.
Proteins are used to keep the drug in the bloodstream, then it is cleared through the kidneys.
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“It’s similar to the hepatitis B vaccine. The vaccine stimulates the body to make antibodies against fentanyl,” Dr. Haile said, “and if an individual consumes fentanyl, those antibodies will bind to the drug and l ‘will prevent it from entering the brain.’
He added: “Without the vaccine, fentanyl enters the brain fairly easily, stimulating euphoric centers and can also stimulate parts of the brain that control breathing, leading to overdose and death.”
Tests in lab rats and mice have shown very promising results, Haile said, and he thinks they’ll see the same results once human trials begin in the coming weeks.
“We did extensive studies in mice and rats and the effect of the vaccine was quite dramatic,” he says. We have demonstrated that, yes, the vaccine prevents fentanyl from entering the brain. He keeps it in his blood. And then the fentanyl is removed from the body.”
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He thinks the vaccine could be available to the public within two years, he said.
“Since the vaccine is already made up of components that are already on the market and have already been tested in humans, we believe that when it comes time to submit our application to the FDA, we hope that the approval process will be accelerated.”
The team began working on the fentanyl vaccine nearly six years ago.
Dr. Haile and his team began working on the vaccine nearly six years ago when an unprecedented rise in overdose deaths began to surface. The vaccine was developed from two protein strands already used in other vaccine treatments.
Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids have become the leading cause of overdose deaths in the United States and more than 110,000 are estimated to have occurred between August 2021 and August 2022 – a stunning high for a single 12-month period.
With more than 150 people dying every day from synthetic opioid overdoses, according to the CDC, the vaccine comes at a crucial time as the drug crisis grips the country.
“Unfortunately, from about 10 years ago, the manufacture of fentanyl increased, and it became much more common in terms of illicit drug markets, to see it first become part of the drug supply and more recently, quite completely taking over from any other illicit opioid,” Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, who consults with Dr. Haile’s research team, told Fox News.
“So the heroine [use] is declining in many parts of the country because fentanyl is cheaper, easier to smuggle, and produces the same cerebral effects. »
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Development of the vaccine was funded by the Department of Defense, where officials told Fox News it backed the project after the need to address the prevalence of addiction in many military families.
“We need this vaccine… There are so many people who can be helped.”
Dr. Haile points out that this vaccine would be best for those who have already gone through rehab, as it will prevent relapses.
“This vaccine is for people who want to quit. It’s not for people who don’t want to quit,” he says.
“A vaccinated person – if they don’t want to stop their opioid addiction, they can take other drugs, other opioid drugs, or just other drugs that the vaccine antibodies don’t target.”
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People have already contacted the team at the University of Houston asking to be added to upcoming trials – something that Dr. Haile says underscores the need for this treatment.
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“We need this. We need this vaccine. And there are so many people who can be helped,” he says.
“It has to happen, and it will happen.”
Fox News’ Evan Goldman contributed to this report.