U.S. Military Working on Combination Anti-Heroin/HIV Vaccine

A scientist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research is developing a vaccine designed to treat heroin addiction while at the same time prevent HIV infection. This project is one of a number of research initiatives around the world that are working toward new vaccines to fight addiction.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse recently pledged $5 million toward Dr. Gary Matyas’ work on the new dual vaccine. The goal of the vaccine is to fight heroin abuse and the high risk of HIV infection among heroin users who inject the drug.

“Heroin users have a high incidence of HIV, especially in regions of the former Soviet Union, South America and parts of Europe,” Dr. Matyas said. “If you can reduce heroin use, you can reduce the spread of HIV. That’s why we’re focusing on both heroin and HIV in one vaccine.”

The two parts of the vaccine are being developed separately, and will be combined when they have both been shown to be effective in small animals. The vaccine could be ready to be tested in nonhuman primates in several years.

The heroin component of the vaccine is in a more advanced stage, he explained. Researchers are taking small molecules that mimic heroin, and attaching them to the active component in the human tetanus vaccine. They are using a potent adjuvant formulation—a substance that enhances the immune system response. “This produces a very strong antibody response,” Dr. Matyas notes. “The antibody binds to heroin and prevents it from crossing the blood-brain barrier and producing a pleasurable effect.”

The HIV component of the vaccine is based on one that was tested in Thailand. A clinical trial of that vaccine, published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2009, was the first HIV vaccine study to show any efficacy, Dr. Matyas said. The study found the vaccine effectiveness rate was 31.2 percent. The U.S. Military HIV Research Program, part of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, is working to enhance the response rate.

Once the vaccine is commercially available, it will require booster shots in addition to the initial injection, according to Dr. Matyas.

Most current addiction vaccines are focused on nicotine. Although several nicotine vaccine trials have had disappointing results, researchers continue to test nicotine vaccines. A benefit of a vaccine is that it would be given once a month, which would be easier to stick with than daily nicotine patches or gum. Researchers are studying cocaine vaccines as well.

Last year researchers in California, using a mouse model, announced they have found three new formulations that could be used in a vaccine to treat addiction to methamphetamine.

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    Norma Norris

    December 2, 2012 at 12:29 PM

    A question arises, as to the blocking of the heroin hit. How does this really address the craving of the addict? With addiction, it would seem that another drug of choice would emerge – particularly one or more of the emerging synthetic drugs.

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    Science over mythology

    December 1, 2012 at 2:06 PM

    More “Fred” thinkers, fewer Luddites, please. One of my recovering students just asked me the other day why nothing yet existed to keep fat-soluble drugs like heroin from crossing the blood-brain barrier to the amygdala (pleasure-center). Bravo to these researchers for their progress.

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    Johnny The Healer

    November 30, 2012 at 10:46 PM

    Yes I am aware of this therapy and I use it in my practice. I also use herbs and IV therapy with hyperbaric chamber and raw organic super juices. I end opiate withdrawal with out the toxic side effects with vaccines. And I detox heroin addicts in less than 72 hours.

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    Marcia Kirschbaum

    November 30, 2012 at 2:53 PM

    Addiction – actually ALL Mental health “issues” from ADHD to Epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, Autism, Schizophrenia, Mood disorders, sleep disorders, Depression and the “other” hundreds–and-growing-by-the-day mental illnesses diagnosed every day http://www.buzzle.com/articles/mental-disorders-list.html are nothing more than neurotransmitter imbalance, which is a chemical imbalance due to a nutritional deficiency, a food allergy or a combination of the two.

    When the Psych Med world throws around the “Chemical Imbalance” term, they are correct, but apparently completely clueless as to what it means. Our bodies turn the food we eat into thousands of chemicals that the brain uses in infinite combinations to operate on an ongoing Nano-second basis. This Chemical Imbalance can only be corrected with proper nutrition, adequate deep sleep, exercise, etc… but in the name of profit, we keep people sick with synthetic chemicals that mimic our natural ones. Certainly, nobody has a drug deficiency, but as you know, there is no repeat profit in curing anything.

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