Fentanyl vaccine

Using Fentanyl to Combat Opioid Addiction

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid originally developed for pain management for cancer patients. As an opioid agonist, it works by binding to the opioid receptors in the areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. It’s 50-100 times stronger than morphine. Because of its potency, it’s used recreationally and commonly mixed with other drugs, e.g., heroin and cocaine.

This often creates more profit for providers by making the drugs go further. Because of fentanyl’s increased potency, it has dangerous repercussions for users. It’s more dangerous for those who are not familiar with fentanyl and its effects. It can take only 2mg of fentanyl to cause a potential overdose.

Fentanyl Overdose

Fentanyl addiction has become a huge problem in many countries, such as the US. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 107,375 people in the US died of drug overdoses and poisoning.  It was also reported that 67% of these deaths involved synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.

Drug abuse from the mid-1990s has caused 500,00 deaths globally. According to the CDC, around 70% of these deaths are related to opioids, and 30% of deaths are directly caused by opioids. The World Health Organization has predicted that 115,000 people died of opioid overdose in 2017 worldwide.

Research

One research group recently published their work in Pharmaceutics, and has developed a vaccine to prevent fentanyl from crossing the blood-brain barrier, blood vessels that surround the central nervous system.

The blood-brain barrier has unique functions that allow it to regulate the movement of substances between the blood and the brain. Once a substance crosses the blood-brain barrier, it can bind to receptors in the central nervous system and brain.

Fentanyl binds to opioid receptors in the brain, resulting in feelings of euphoria, nausea, and confusion. It also causes breathing problems. Blocking fentanyl from crossing this barrier prevents it from binding to the opioid receptors. This eliminates the effects of the drug, such as feelings of euphoria. This could be a breakthrough treatment for people trying to overcome opioid addiction.

Fentanyl Vaccine Mechanism

The vaccine generates anti-fentanyl antibodies, which bind to fentanyl. This prevents it from crossing the blood-brain barrier and binding to the opioid receptors in the brain.

These anti-fentanyl antibodies are specific to fentanyl and fentanyl derivatives. Because of this, they didn’t cross-react with other opioids such as morphine that may be used for pain relief. The researchers expanded the vaccine study by collaborating with Tulane University School of Medicine.

The vaccine contains a molecule, derived from Ecoli, that boosts the immune system’s response to the vaccine known as an adjuvant. This is a critical component of the vaccine.

Alternative Treatments

Other treatments for opioid use disorders include other opioid agonists, including methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. However, the downside to these treatments is that they help to treat opioid addiction but do not prevent overdose in those who relapse. Furthermore, opioid relapse is common. It has been estimated that 80% of those dependent on the drug suffer a relapse.

Naloxone is a drug that can rapidly reverse the effects of an overdose. It binds to opioid receptors and blocks other opioid effects. However, it often requires multiple doses to prevent overdose, as naloxone only works in the body for up to 90 minutes. In addition, many opioids have a longer half-life than this in the body, for example, fentanyl has an elimination half-life of 2-4 hours. Elimination half-lives, refer to the amount of time taken for 50% of the dose to be metabolized and removed from the body.

Other Resources

If you’re interested in reading more about other exciting developments in drug discovery and healthcare, check out our recent article on how Eating Sand-like Material Could Help You Lose Weight.