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Scientists are making a vaccine against fentanyl

by Ties Inc.

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Researchers at the University of Houston say in a statement that they have a possible solution in the fight against opioid overdoses: a new vaccine that blocks fentanyl from entering the brain.

Drug overdose deaths rose to an all-time high during the early Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, the number of overdose deaths in the United States rose to 91.799, a 30 percent spike from the previous year. Researchers say synthetic opioids like fentanyl are partly responsible. These drugs were involved in more than half of all fatal overdoses in 2020. More than 150 people die every day from synthetic opioids.

Opioid crisis

“Fentanyl is killing Americans at an unprecedented rate,” said Anne Milgram, Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drug traffickers drive addiction and increase profits by mixing fentanyl with other illegal drugs. Tragically, many overdose victims have no idea they are ingesting the deadly fentanyl until it is too late.”

In a study published in Pharmaceutics, scientists tested their vaccine on 60 rats. The animals could produce antibodies that stop the effects of fentanyl. The substance was able to leave the body through the kidneys. This, in theory, would make it easier for people to stop taking the drug or prevent a relapse.

The scientists found that their vaccine caused no adverse side effects in the rats. It also did not cross-react with other opioids, including morphine. "A vaccinated person could still be treated for pain relief," lead author Colin Haile, a psychologist at the University of Houston, said in the statement.

dmLT in fentanyl vaccine

The vaccine contains an ingredient called dmLT, which is derived from E. coli. dmLT is an adjuvant, meaning it stimulates the immune system's response to vaccines. This is a key component in vaccines against addiction, according to the statement.

While the immunization could protect people who accidentally ingest fentanyl while taking other drugs, it's intended for people who are addicted and want to quit, Haile explains to KTRK's Briana Conner.
"Many more people are using the drug these days," said Philip Van Guilder, the director of community affairs and overdose prevention at the Greenhouse Treatment Center in Texas.

The next steps for the researchers are getting FDA approval for the vaccine and starting clinical trials. The team hopes their vaccine can be sold within three or four years.

Source: www.smithsonianmag.com (EN)

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