by Bethany Blankley
The University of Houston is leading a research effort to develop a fentanyl vaccine.
Gov. Greg Abbott toured the university’s vaccine lab and was briefed by technicians who’ve been experimenting with mice and rats on a potential drug that could block or reduce the effects of fentanyl.
“Fentanyl remains the single deadliest drug threat our state and nation has ever encountered, and Texas continues leading the fight against this clandestine killer,” Abbott said. He also congratulated “the brilliant achievement of Dr. Colin Haile and his research team” for “creating a fentanyl vaccine.”
Haile, a research associate professor of psychology at UH and the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation and Statistics, and a founding member of the UH Drug Discovery Institute, is leading the fentanyl vaccine research initiative.
“This incredible, groundbreaking new therapy has the potential to revolutionize how we combat fentanyl deaths in our communities and end the afflictions of addiction that burden so many innocent Texans and Americans across the country,” Abbott said.
“We believe these findings could have a significant impact on a very serious problem plaguing society for years – opioid misuse,” Haile said in a university report. “Our vaccine is able to generate anti-fentanyl antibodies that bind to the consumed fentanyl and prevent it from entering the brain, allowing it to be eliminated out of the body via the kidneys. Thus, the individual will not feel the euphoric effects and can ‘get back on the wagon’ to sobriety.”
Haile was the lead author of a study published by the journal Pharmaceutics, which explains how “vaccine immunotherapy for FEN-associated disorders may be a viable therapeutic strategy.” Their research expanded on a previous study in mice that showed “immunological and antinociception efficacy of our FEN vaccine administered with the adjuvant dmLT.”
Their work found that “immunized male and female rats produced significant levels of anti-FEN antibodies that were highly effective at neutralizing FEN–induced antinociception in the tail flick assay and hot plate assays. The vaccine also decreased FEN brain levels following drug administration,” according to the abstract of the report. “Immunization blocked FEN-induced, but not morphine-induced, rate-disrupting effects on schedule-controlled responding.”
“Vaccination prevented decreases on physiological measures (oxygen saturation, heart rate) and reduction in overall activity following FEN administration in male rats,” the report notes, adding that the “data support further clinical development of this vaccine to address OUD in humans.”
Their study also found that “anti-fentanyl antibodies were specific to fentanyl and a fentanyl derivative and did not cross-react with other opioids, such as morphine,” Haile said, meaning “a vaccinated person would still be able to be treated for pain relief with other opioids.”
The university says their research team plans to begin manufacturing a clinical-grade vaccine in the next few months with human clinical trials “planned soon.”
RTI International’s Pharmacotherapies for Alcohol and Substance Use Disorders Alliance has funded Haile’s lab for several years, the university says. The fentanyl vaccine study was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Alcohol and Substance Abuse Disorders Program.
In the past two years, illicit fentanyl has been pouring into Texas as a result of President Joe Biden’s open border policies, Gov. Abbott says. Through Texas’ border security mission, Operation Lone Star, law enforcement officers have seized over 352 million lethal doses of fentanyl, enough to kill everyone in the U.S.
Texas recently launched a “One Pill Can Kill” campaign, similar to the ones previously launched by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office.
“Fentanyl remains the deadliest drug threat facing this country,” the DEA says.
The highly addictive synthetic opioid is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.
Two milligrams, roughly the weight of a mosquito, and small enough to fit on the tip of a pencil, is considered a potentially deadly dose.
The DEA recently launched its second public safety alert, warning Americans of a “sharp nationwide increase in the lethality of fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills.”
Six of 10 fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills its experts analyzed in 2022 contained a potentially lethal dose, the DEA says, an increase from 4 out of 10 pills tested last year. The pills are being mass-produced by the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco New Generation Cartel, the DEA says.
Abbott recently designated both cartels as foreign terrorist organizations and has called on Biden to do the same. Moody and a coalition of 18 attorneys general have called on Biden to designate fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction. Neither the governor nor the AGs have received a response.
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