Opiant has recently in-licensed a novel heroin vaccine developed by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) in collaboration with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a division of the National Institute of Health (NIH).
Heroin (diacetyl morphine) is an opioid made from morphine, an alkaloid produced by the opium poppy. It is metabolized to morphine and 6-acetyl morphine which bind to opioid receptors, resulting in the same spectrum of pharmacological effects produced by other opioids. Heroin is highly reinforcing, and once an individual becomes addicted to heroin, seeking and using the drug becomes his/her primary purpose in life. There is a very high risk of overdose because neither the quantity nor the purity of heroin purchased ‘on the street’ is known.
The heroin vaccine licensed from WRAIR is in preclinical development. It is designed to generate antibodies that bind heroin in the bloodstream, preventing it from entering the brain. By preventing heroin and its metabolites from binding to opioid receptors in the brain, the pleasurable and harmful effects are nullified. Successful animal studies at WRAIR will pave the way for testing the vaccine in humans, and raise the possibility of a long-lasting means of preventing relapse to heroin use. Because this vaccine is directed specifically to heroin, it is compatible with current medication-assisted treatments for opioid use disorder.