UMN Researchers Develop Vaccines Targeting Fentanyl

Opioid use disorders and the increasing incidence of opioid-related fatal overdoses are a national crisis. More than 400 Minnesotans died from opioids in 2017, according to the Minnesota Department of Health and deaths from synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, have increased nearly 86 percent since 2016.

A team of University of Minnesota Medical School researchers, led by Marco Pravetoni, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology, at the University of Minnesota Medical School, has developed vaccines to counteract fentanyl toxicity. Professor Pravetoni and his team recently received a grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA grant UG3DA048386-01: Vaccines for fentanyl and its derivatives: A strategy to reduce illicit use and overdose) to support further development of vaccines targeting fentanyl and its derivatives, such as carfentanil.

The team’s findings were recently published in The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

“Vaccines can offer a promising treatment for reduction of opioid use disorders and opioid-related overdose in substance users as well as people in occupations at-risk of accidental exposure such as law enforcement, customs or military personnel,” says Professor Pravetoni. “Pre-clinical data indicate that vaccination can reduce fentanyl-induced respiratory depression and that vaccination does not interfere with reversal of toxicity by naloxone (narcan).”

The Pravetoni lab at the University of Minnesota has been working on the development of vaccines and antibody-based therapies for opioid use disorders and overdose. The team has developed a series of vaccines against heroin, oxycodone, and fentanyl and demonstrated their pre-clinical selectivity, efficacy, and safety. The team is currently working on moving candidate anti-opioid vaccines into clinical testing.

According to Professor Pravetoni, anti-opioid vaccines offer a long-lasting, safe and cost-effective intervention complementary to medication assisted treatment (MAT).