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Researchers from the U “approach” vaccine trials for opioid addiction

Researchers at the University of Minnesota are approaching clinical trials of a vaccine for opioid addiction.

Three studies published in the last six months show gradual success, including one in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics that showed that a vaccine could prevent oxycodone and opioid heroin molecules from reaching the brain.

"We are getting closer," said Marco Pravetoni, the principal investigator who has been studying a vaccine to treat addiction for 10 years.

A vaccine to deal with addiction may sound unusual, but it would work like any vaccine by stimulating the immune system to produce antibodies. Instead of attacking the influenza or the poliovirus, the antibodies would be induced to bind opioid molecules and prevent them from crossing the blood barrier of the brain.

If successful, this approach would avoid or reduce the euphoric and addictive effects of opioids, but also the therapeutic and analgesic benefits. As a result, it is likely that the vaccine should be reserved for people with known addictions, said Pravetoni of the Department of Pharmacology. "There are ethical concerns to immunize people preventively for something like drug abuse."

The vaccine would also be administered periodically, more as a vaccine against seasonal flu than a pediatric series.

Another challenge has been to develop the vaccine in a form that inhibits certain opioids, but allows opiate treatment medications such as methadone and buprenorphine to work.

In Minnesota, there has been a sixfold increase in deaths over the past 20 years due to the abuse and abuse of opiates, both illicit forms such as heroin and prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone.

Recent increases in federal funding and the focus on the opiate epidemic could accelerate the development of the vaccine. Pravetoni said he hopes he will soon seek additional federal funds for clinical trials.

"It's going to take a while before it's available and available to the public," he said. "That's my warning statement, we really believe in this, but it will not be ready tomorrow."

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