University of Houston developing fentanyl vaccine to stop deadly overdoses

Houston researchers prepare to begin human clinical trials

HOUSTON – There’s finally good news in the fight against fentanyl. Researchers in Houston are developing a powerful weapon against the synthetic opioid — a vaccine that stops fentanyl from killing people.

“If a person is vaccinated, the drug does not enter the brain. It stays in the systemic circulation and then is eventually eliminated from the body,” said Colin Haile, research associate professor at the University of Houston and lead researcher on the project.

Fentanyl is so dangerous because it’s potent and acts quickly. Once in your body, it can immediately stop you from breathing, keeping oxygen from entering your brain.

Haile told KSAT researchers at the University of Houston began the fentanyl vaccine project six years ago.

“That’s when the opioid epidemic was really starting to take hold,” said Haile.

So far, researchers have successfully tested the vaccine on mice. Now, they hope to start human trials within a year. Their goal is to have this vaccine on the market in less than five years.

Haile said the vaccine would protect people who are inadvertently exposed to fentanyl and those who are addicted to fentanyl but want to quit.

“A high proportion of these individuals relapse, and they also stop taking their medications because of side effects,” Haile said. “And thus, compliance is a huge issue. So, in a vaccinated individual, they cannot get rid of the antibodies. The antibodies are there, and so if they relapse, those antibodies will bind to fentanyl and prevent it from getting into the brain.”

“They will feel no euphoric effects. They will not overdose, and this will give them a chance to get back on the wagon to sobriety,” Haile continued.

They’d get another chance to stay sober and away from a drug that’s now the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 45.

Haile said the vaccine would also be a major relief for parents concerned about their children experimenting with drugs.

“They can feel reassured that their children will not get poisoned by fentanyl or fentanyl derivatives,” Haile said about the vaccine.

Find more Finding Fentanyl articles on here

About the Author:

Stephania Jimenez is an anchor on The Nightbeat. She began her journalism career in 2006, after graduating from Syracuse University. She's anchored at NBC Philadelphia, KRIS in Corpus Christi, NBC Connecticut and KTSM in El Paso. Although born and raised in Brooklyn, Stephania considers Texas home. Stephania is bilingual! She speaks Spanish.