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Heroin Vaccine is Successful in Rodent Trials

A vaccine that prevents heroin from causing a high has received a $1.6 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse in the US. Studies on rodents have been successful, and the plan is to move into primate testing in the very near future. According to the senior author of the study, Dr George Koob, the effects are “more dramatic than any we’ve ever seen.”

The vaccine, developed by The Scripps Research Institute, works by stimulating the body to produce antibodies that recognise heroin molecules and bind to them. This stops the active parts of the drug reaching the brain and having psychoactive effects. As heroin users will be unable to get high from the drug, the idea is that incidences of relapse will decrease.

In testing designed to mirror relapse patterns in humans, the vaccine was administered to rats that had already been given heroin. The rats were trained to press a lever in order to get more. In the second stage of the study, the rats underwent “extinction training”, housed in an environment where pressing the lever no longer provided heroin. The rats that did not receive the vaccine began pressing the lever again immediately after being given a dose of heroin. Rats that did receive the vaccine were given heroin, but showed no interest in pressing the lever afterwards to try and obtain more.

Current drug treatments for heroin addiction have varying degrees of success in terms of preventing relapse. They often have side effects, and mainly work to eradicate withdrawal symptoms while providing little to no high. Solutions like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are immensely helpful as part of treatment programmes, but they all depend on the patient taking them regularly. This vaccine could help addicts who fear relapse without requiring ongoing administration.

However, this vaccine cannot replace all other treatments. As Dr Bob Patton, a research fellow at the King’s College National Addiction Centre, pointed out, treating the condition physiologically is only one step. Fortunately, the study authors are well aware of this. As Dr Koob points out, the aim is to make relapse less damaging – the vaccine is not intended to be a one-stop solution; it is intended to form part of a wider addiction treatment programme.

This branch of drug development benefits considerably from advanced in vivo solutions like ActualHCA. To read the release from The Scripps Research Institute, click here. To read the early story in the San Diego Tribune, click here, or here to read the latest news piece. If you’d like more information about ActualHCA, contact us today.