Columbia preps clinical trial for opioid vaccine targeting addiction

Researchers with Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons will lead a new clinical trial involving a vaccine that may help treat opioid use disorder. Though medications are available to help those with opioid addiction overcome the problem, relapses are very common — something a long-lasting vaccine may help prevent.

With the launch of this clinical trial, the research will officially mark the first time an experimental vaccine has been tested in the US to potentially treat opioid abuse. The new vaccine comes amid continued issues with opioid abuse across the nation, a public health crisis that experienced a big setback with the pandemic.

The vaccine — which is still experimental at this time — was developed by the University of Minnesota Medical School's Marco Pravetoni; it works by preventing oxycodone from entering the brain to cause the 'high' associated with opioids. The block is made possible by the development of antibodies triggered by the vaccine.

Assuming someone is vaccinated with the experimental vaccine, they wouldn't get high after taking oxycodone due to the anti-oxycodone antibodies that target it before it can reach the brain. By blocking the drug's access to the brain, the vaccine may also help prevent the respiration-related deaths that often occur when someone overdoses on opioid substances.

The vaccine has thus far been the subject of preclinical tests involving animal models. Based on that research, the scientists found that the vaccine reduced the amount of opioids animals self-administered and also protected them against the various signs of a toxic overdose. Even better, the vaccine won't interfere with naloxone and other treatment drugs.

Going forward, the clinical trials will involve three groups of people who use opioids but who do not receive other treatments for them. One group of participants will be given a low dose of the vaccine, another group will be given a high dose, and the third group will be given a placebo. To start with, the researchers will evaluate the vaccine's safety, tolerability, and how effectively it stimulates antibody production in recipients.