Heroin addiction is a devastating disease and usually results in a number of medical, social, financial, and psychological complications. Heroin can be self administered in several ways, but is notorious for being used by the intravenous route. Heroin injections exposes the addict to several health risks in addition to the problems of heroin addiction itself and include the risk of contracting hiv, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and bacterial infections. The estimate cost to the United States to combat this deadly disease on a yearly basis is $22 billion. Heroin addiction has contributed to the spread of the hiv virus, as well as several hepatitis viruses throughout the world. Treatment is based on providing emotional, behavior, and psychological support through rehabilitation programs, counseling, and self help recovery programs such as Narcotics Anonymous. In addition, methadone maintenance programs can also help in the drug addiction recovery process. Several vaccines have been developed against other drugs of abuse such as cocaine and nicotine and are now in clinical trials. A heroin vaccine has been elusive in the past due to the fact that heroin is a prodrug that is metabolized into several psychoactive metabolites which include morphine and 6-acetylmorphine. Recently, researchers from The Scripps Research Institute lead by Dr. Kim Janda, have developed a highly effective vaccine against heroin. Their research was published online in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. The researchers used a technique to target heroin as well as several of the active metabolites that are produced from heroin. Using this technique, the researchers were able to produce a vaccine “cocktail” that exposed the immune system to several different molecules including heroin, morphine, and 6-acetylmorphine. The vaccine was used to immunized rats which were shown to have a robust response with the production of polyclonal antibodies against the drug of abuse. The rats that were immunized were much less likely to self administer heroin by pressing on a lever in their cages. The immune response was also shown to be very specific for heroin, morphine, and 6-acetylmorphine and did not produce the same immunity to other opioid analgesics or opioid antagonists. The authors wrote, “We demonstrate the significance of this approach through the extremely rapid generation of robust polyclonal antibody titers with remarkable specificity. Importantly, both the antinociceptive effects of heroin and acquisition of heroin self-administration were blocked in rats vaccinated using the heroin-like hapten”. The next step of the development process will be phase 1 human clinical trials. The development of an effective heroin vaccine should add to the current treatment options and help addicts enter into and maintain a program of recovery.
See the YouTube Video Interview with Dr. Kim Janda below:
G. Neil Stowe et al. “A Vaccine Strategy that Induces Protective Immunity against Heroin” J Med Chem 2011, 549140 pp 5195-5204