Researchers: Vaccine could curb opioid epidemic

CLEVELAND, Ohio. (WOIO) -- The thought of a vaccine being used to treat people with an opioid addiction isn’t just a hope, it’s trying to become a reality in labs at Virginia Tech.

The most recent CDC data shows there were 5,111 drug overdose deaths in 2017 in Ohio, with the overwhelming majority of those coming from opioid use.

The problem has been deemed an epidemic by the CDC and health officials for more than two years.

Researchers at Virginia Tech were recently give a $3 million grant to further work by Dr. Mike Zhang, trying to develop a vaccine that can actually stop addiction.

“Opioids get into the blood and then the brain." according to Zhang. "At present, there is no cure or way to solve the dependence they create. Our hope is that the vaccine, consisting of one shot and two boosters, will help recipients develop antibodies against opioids. It will alleviate the symptom of the high generated by the brain.”

Zhang has already created a similar vaccine to block the craving of nicotine and is awaiting a patent.

If research goes well over the next two years, Zhang and his team the grant will be expanded to a five year, $8.7 million award.

The idea is to create a vaccine that would attack an opioid, or even nicotine, like it was a virus and stop it from reaching the brain.

The human body’s immune system would then use its rapid response, to attack using antibodies developed from the vaccine.

With an estimated 130 people dying from an overdose every day in this country, the unfortunate reality is that a vaccine is years away.

“If our work is absolutely successful, it will take another five to 10 years for a vaccine to even get into human trials,” Zhang told 19 News.

When Zhang described the amount of work still has to be done, you can see why this solution is years away.

“Animal trials, pre-clinical studies, manufacturing of clinical materials, human trials, and then FDA approval," Zhang said. “Yes, the process is very time consuming, because we are trying to develop a vaccine for use in human. The main frustration comes from the inconsistent funding, particularly when a research project hits a wall, which happens almost all the time."

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