Pubdate: Sat, 14 Apr 2018
Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (MN)
Copyright: 2018 Star Tribune
Author: Jeremy Olson



Researchers at the University of Minnesota are getting closer to
clinical trials of a vaccine for opioid addiction.

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

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

A vaccine to confront addiction might sound unusual, but it would work
like any vaccine by stimulating the immune system to produce
antibodies. Instead of targeting influenza or poliovirus, the
antibodies would be coaxed to bind to opioid molecules and prevent
them from crossing the bloodstream barrier to the brain.

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

The vaccine also would be administered periodically - more like a
seasonal flu shot than a pediatric series.

Another challenge has been developing the vaccine in a way that
inhibits certain opioids, but permits opioid treatment drugs such as
methadone and buprenorphine to work.

In Minnesota, there has been a sixfold increase in deaths in the past
20 years from the misuse and abuse of opioids - both illicit forms
such as heroin and prescription painkillers such as oxycodone.

Recent increases in federal funding and focus on the opioid epidemic
could expedite vaccine development. Pravetoni said he expects he will
soon seek additional federal funding for clinical trials.

"Its going to take a while before its going to be out there and
available to the public," he said. "That's my cautionary statement. We
really believe in this, but it's not going to be ready tomorrow."
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