Opiant Pharmaceuticals has secured exclusive development and commercialisation rights to the heroin vaccine invented by scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  

Opiant CEO Roger Crystal said: “Aggressively addressing heroin addiction is part of Opiant’s mission.

“In our view, this vaccine fits our plan to develop innovative treatments for this condition. The vaccine has promising preclinical data.”

Researchers at NIDA in Rockville and at WRAIR in Silver Spring, Maryland , developed a vaccine candidate that induces antibodies that then bind to heroin in the bloodstream, thereby preventing the drug from crossing the blood-brain barrier and blocking the euphoria and addictive effects.

"With the heroin epidemic reaching astonishing levels, we are driven at Opiant to develop new treatments for this addiction."

As heroin is too small a molecule to induce antibodies on its own, scientists worked with organic chemists to join the heroin analog to a carrier protein in order to boost its immune-inducing effect.

The preclinical research was funded by NIDA.

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WRAIR also leveraged its expertise in novel adjuvants study to boost the immune response of the vaccine.

If additional pre-clinical testing is successful, Opiant intends to work with researchers at the US Military HIV research programme at WRAIR to combine the heroin vaccine with their HIV vaccine candidate. 

WRAIR principal investigator Gary Matyas said: “This innovative dual-vaccine model would concurrently address the entwined epidemics of heroin abuse and HIV, and could provide considerable public health benefit.”

Dr. Crystal said: “With the heroin epidemic reaching astonishing levels, we are driven at Opiant to develop new treatments for this addiction.

“We look forward to completing the preclinical work conducted by WRAIR and advancing into the clinic.

"Whilst our development of NARCAN Nasal Spray to reverse opioid overdose has been a significant effort to address the unfortunate consequences of heroin addiction, we see the vaccine as having potential in addressing the disease itself.”