CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — Doctors, scientists and professors have been working on an “anti-fentanyl vaccine” for about five to six years and they now plan to move into the next steps of its process.

Dr. Colin Haile, University of Houston Research Associate Professor, amongst his team, has worked over the past 20 years on similar vaccines to the one they are in the process of making now. They have worked on vaccines against cocaine and methamphetamine, and are now actively focused on the anti-fentanyl vaccine. Dr. Haile mentioned that there are four other groups that have or are currently working on a similar anti-fentanyl vaccine. However, his team is more advanced in getting this vaccine put to use in humans sooner.

During an interview with 12 News, Dr. Haile explained exactly how this vaccine would work. He started by talking about typical vaccines and how their main purpose is to develop antibodies against pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. But this new anti-fentanyl vaccine is a bit different. When vaccinated, our bodies will produce antibodies against the fentanyl chemical. If a vaccinated individual were to consume fentanyl, the antibodies would bind to the fentanyl and prevent it from getting into the brain and triggering euphoric and overdose centers.

The anti-fentanyl vaccine has already seen test runs on mice and rats, according to Dr. Haile. As of Dec. 22, the data that the team had collected from the testing showed that the vaccine is completely effective and blocks the effects of fentanyl. Haile added that most of the reagents of the vaccine have already been in humans. Part of this vaccine is currently in the pneumococcal and meningococcal vaccines, which are currently on the market.

The team is currently manufacturing a clinical-grade vaccine, which will need toxicology testing, due to requirements from the U.S. Food and Drug Association (FDA). After the toxicology testing is done, Dr. Haile and his team will submit an application to the FDA to possibly begin a three-phase clinical trial on humans. Phase one of the clinical trial consists of primarily looking at the safety of the vaccine, and will have between 40 and 50 participants who have opioid use disorder. Phases two and three will take longer and have even more participants.

With the resources that the team currently has, Dr. Haile told 12 News that it could be around 12 months before the application is submitted. He said he hopes that it will only take about two to three more years to be able to start using the anti-fentanyl vaccine in the general public. Dr. Haile added that this vaccine could benefit first responders who may come into contact with fentanyl or young adults or kids who may be experimenting.

West Virginia has had the highest rates of drug overdose death rates since 1999, so an anti-fentanyl vaccine could help our communities tremendously. Opioid use disorder can be treated, but according to the American Addiction Centers, a study they conducted reported that as many as 91% of those in recovery will experience a relapse. This anti-fentanyl vaccine could be the next step used in the opioid abuse treatment chain.

One point that the research associate professor said others have brought up to him was, “What if the patient needs pain medication in the future for medical reasons?” He said that the antibodies produced by the new vaccine do not bind to morphine, methadone, oxycodone, buprenorphine, and even a few others. Narcan can still be used if needed while being vaccinated with the anti-fentanyl vaccine. 

The University of Houston will continue to update this story through news releases as it develops.