Researchers are honing in on potential Fentanyl vaccine amid national opioid crisis

Tara Campbell Image
Saturday, December 24, 2022
Researchers are honing in on potential Fentanyl vaccine
Researchers are honing in on potential Fentanyl vaccine amid the national opioid crisis.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- In the battle against the nation's drug overdose crisis, a vaccine against Fentanyl could be coming down the pike.

"We're at an exciting point, is where we are," said Dr. Colin Haile, who's leading a team of researchers at the Univesity of Houston. "We've built a vaccine that can immunize an individual against Fentanyl."

The vaccine works by generating antibodies against the powerful opioid and preventing it from entering the brain.

"If the drug does not get into the brain, there are no effects -- there are no euphoric effects and no lethal effects as well," said Dr. Haile.

MORE: SJ man arrested for selling fentanyl-laced pills to Los Gatos High students, causing overdoses: DA

Nearly 107,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2021, according to new data from the CDC. Six-hundred and twenty-five of those deaths were in San Francisco, the city seeing a 45% increase in drug overdose deaths in just two years.

"We feel that this would work and would have a dramatic impact on those who have opioid-use disorder and want to quit," said Dr. Haile.

"I don't think it is yet time to celebrate," said Dr. Keith Humphreys, Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University. "Most people hear vaccines, and they think you give it to a child, and they're protected for life that's not what this is. This is a therapeutic vaccine."

Therapeutic, meaning the vaccine would be used to treat people in recovery, but the doctor warns, that's a lot easier said than done.

MORE: Narcan could soon be required in every CA school as fentanyl overdoses surge

"That would be terrific, if it works, but the challenges are many. First off, remember these are rats, so they didn't have a choice but to take the vaccine, but human beings do," said Dr. Humphreys.

But still, after five years of research and more testing to come -- Dr. Haile is hopeful the vaccine will be approved by the FDA in the next four years.

"We still have a ways to go. We're close and every time I think about it, I get more motivated."

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