Heroin use is on the rise in the United States and around the world—accompanied by a significant increase in heroin overdose deaths and risk of HIV transmission from needle sharing.
Now researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have been awarded a prestigious Translational Avant-Garde Award, which supports the development of medications for substance abuse disorders, from the National Institutes of Health National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The two-year, $1.6 million grant, which comes with the possibility of an additional three years of funding, will support preclinical studies of a potential heroin vaccine.
"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, who will lead the new project.
The heroin vaccine was initially developed by Janda and his colleagues at TSRI in 2013, and it has proven safe and effective in mouse models of heroin addiction. The vaccine trains immune system antibodies to recognize and bind to heroin molecules, blocking the drug's active products from reaching the brain to trigger a "high." Without that high, scientists believe recovering drug addicts will be much less likely to relapse.
For the new project, the TSRI researchers have teamed up with collaborators from Virginia Commonwealth University and Molecular Express, Inc. The researchers will further refine the vaccine, testing aspects like its stability and the optimal manufacturing processes to make it. After that, studies at Virginia Commonwealth University will test its safety and effectiveness in primate models.
Janda said this data will lay the groundwork for clinical trials and future consideration for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). He hopes to use a similar strategy to design a vaccine against other abused opioid drugs, such as oxycodone (Oxycotin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin).
The Scripps Research Institute