Why Are the Government and Big Pharma Ignoring the Heroin Addiction Vaccine?
Photo Credit: Oleg GawriloFF / Shutterstock.com
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
The following article first appeared in The Fix. Also on TheFix.com: CNN Reporter Clearly High While Talking to Anderson Cooper; I'm Suicidal—Please Commit Me!; 10 Greatest Songs About Recovery.
A vaccine that could stop heroin addiction cold would seem to be a societal must in light of the national heroin epidemic. Yet while researchers in La Jolla, California at The Scripps Research Institute have developed a new heroin-specific vaccine that has delivered astonishing results when tested on animals, both federal and private research funding have ignored the work being done.
Professor Kim Janda, the Director of the Wirm Institute of Research and Medicine, and Professor George F. Koob, Chair of the Committee on the Neurobiology of Addictive Disorders, published their findings on May 6, 2013 in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In an interview with The Fix, Janda described in detail the impressive success the research team achieved with rats that had become completely dependent on or addicted to heroin:
“The heroin vaccine has been superior to the other drug vaccines we’ve developed," Janda said. "With the latest version, we have been able to give doses 15 to 20 times greater than a dose that normally would kill the animals and they are fine.
"Whether this translates to humans, I don’t know. But with rodents we can give them huge amounts of heroin and they don’t die and they don’t get high. Not only are they not dying, but they seem to be perfectly fine. This is why I believe the vaccine could be used to treat overdoses as well.”
Not only do the vaccinated rats spurn the heroin, Janda added, they practically become immune to overdose.
Employing the same approach as the cocaine vaccine by Dr. Ronald Crystal (about to enter human trials at the Cornell Medical Center), Janda’s heroin vaccine is considerably more specific in its targeting mechanism. At this stage with such promising results, the hope at Scripps was that the next level of research funding would be available to determine whether such a targeting mechanism will deliver effective and lasting results in human subjects. Further testing is needed to determine what will happen when the complications presented by human physiology, free will, and the baffling impulses engendered by drug abuse are thrown into the mix.
According to Janda, a core attribute of the new vaccine that makes it superior to previous attempts is that it addresses the complexity of heroin as it breaks down in the human body. “Previous vaccines didn’t take into account these breakdown products," Janda said. "They didn’t have the specificity of this vaccine that focuses exclusively on heroin. The goal was to stop the morphine from crossing the blood brain barrier.
"This vaccine was designed to counter all of the breakdown products involved with heroin in particular. You need to look at how the drug interacts with the body and how the body interacts with the drug."
One current example is a vaccine being developed in Mexico at the National Institute of Psychiatry, which some scientifically uninformed news sources have asserted is more advanced in its development than Janda's. Although Janda said he wishes his Mexican colleagues well, he doubts the outcome because the Mexican research employs the outdated approach that has failed in the past - that is, trying to address all opiates across the board rather than, as at Scripps, directly targeting heroin and all of its byproducts. "The Mexican vaccine is the same general opiate vaccine that was first tested over 40 years ago," Janda said. "[Ours] is a vast improvement on past vaccines.”