Researchers in early stages of creating fentanyl vaccine to prevent overdoses

According to the Department of State Health Services, 883 people died last year from fentanyl-related overdoses in Texas. 

Researchers at the University of Houston are asking, can we create a vaccine to prevent these types of deaths? 

Dr. Colin Haile with the University of Houston's Drug Discovery Institute joined FOX 7 Austin's Mike Warren to discuss.

Mike Warren: First, what makes fentanyl so deadly?

Dr. Colin Haile: Well, it is not a natural substance. It's a synthetic derived opioid that gets into the brain much quicker than other opioids. And drugs that get into the brain quicker are much more addictive than those that get into the brain slower.

Mike Warren: You're talking about a vaccine. How would a vaccine work?

Dr. Colin Haile: Well, our vaccine works by producing antibodies against a chemical. And that chemical is Fentanyl ordinary vaccines. As you know, once vaccinated, make antibodies against a virus or bacteria. Ours makes antibodies against certain. So in a vaccinated, individual consuming Fentanyl, those antibodies would bind to fentanyl and prevent it from penetrating the brain, where ordinarily it would trigger brain circuitry involved in euphoria or overdose and death.

Mike Warren: What inspired you and your team to do this kind of work?

Dr. Colin Haile: We've been working on vaccines against substances that are associated with use disorders in humans for quite some time. For example, we generated a cocaine vaccine and a methamphetamine vaccine. However, when the opioid problem intensified, we switched all of our focus to generating the anti fentanyl vaccine.

Mike Warren: You know, you mentioned these other types of vaccines just now. Do they work the same way as this fentanyl vaccine?

Dr. Colin Haile: Yes, they do. The vaccine will trigger the body to make antibodies that will bind to these substances. And again, the key is preventing these. But cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as fentanyl from penetrating the brain. If these cannot enter the brain, they have no effects, and they are eventually eliminated from the body.

Mike Warren: Okay. You've only tested on lab animals. Correct. And you know, have you been encouraged by the research and the testing?

Dr. Colin Haile: Absolutely. We show complete blockade of fentanyl's analgesic effects and on certain behaviors as well as complete blockade of fentanyls, effects on oxygen in the blood, decreasing oxygen in the blood, decreasing heart rate, respiration and activity. All of these effects are associated with overdose. So we've blocked that. One key aspect to our vaccine is that one component of the vaccine is already in two FDA approved vaccines that are that have been on the market for quite a while and have proven safe and effective. Another component of the vaccine has already been in numerous human clinical trials and has been tested in infants and has a fantastic safe safety profile. So our vaccine, we feel confident that when we have to submit the application to the FDA that it may be looked positively upon as far as approval of once it's approved, then we can initiate phase one clinical trials.

Mike Warren: Alright. Well, we wish you the best. We're out of time for now. But Dr. Colin Haile with the University of Houston, thank you very much for talking with us.