Heroin is a deadly drug. In 2015
alone, 12,989 people in the United States died because of heroin--that's more than gun homicides of that same year! But things might be going to change soon with this new vaccine.
Researchers at Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have successfully made a vaccine that blocks the "high" that heroin provides to non-human primates. This is the first time that a vaccine against an opioid has passed preclinical testing.
“This validates our previous rodent data and positions our vaccine in a favorable light for anticipated clinical evaluation,” said Kim Janda, study leader from the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at TSRI.
The vaccine works by exposing the immune system to heroin's molecular structure. The immune system then produces antibodies that neutralize heroin molecules and blocking them from reaching the brain. Researchers believed that this method will help recovering addicts from discontinuing the use of the drug since it blocks the feeling of euphoria.
TSRI has been developing the vaccine for over eight years. They tested the vaccine on four rhesus monkeys, the same monkeys that were utilized to develop vaccines for rabies and polio.
Researchers found that giving three doses of the vaccine to each of the monkeys neutralizes different doses of heroin. Also, two of the four monkeys that have been pre-vaccinated seven months before the experiment showed that they have a much higher response of the vaccine.
This means that the immune system "remembers". They also found that there were no negative side effects from the vaccine. “We believe this vaccine candidate will prove safe for human trials,” Janda said.
If what the results of the experiment were true, then an addict would have immunity to heroin for life. However, the vaccine only applies to heroin and not other opioids. Still, it's a step forward to fighting drug addiction!