Breaking News

$25 Million NIH Grant Funds Adjuvant Opioid Use Disorder Vaccine

April 21, 2021 • 8:19 pm CDT
(Precision Vaccinations)

With a $25 million grant from the National Institutes of Health Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative (HEAL), vaccine scientists from the Precision Vaccines Program at Boston Children’s Hospital have partnered with Therese Kosten, a University of Houston (UH) professor of psychology, and her colleagues to develop an adjuvant opioid use disorder vaccine.

“This could be a game-changer for addiction,” stated Kosten in a UH press release issued on April 19, 2021. Kosten received $1.8 million of the grant to combine the adjuvant with the vaccine as powerful as possible.

Kosten’s vaccine development follows her spouse, Dr. Thomas Kosten, M.D., who holds a joint appointment at UH and Baylor College of Medicine, previously developed and tested against cocaine. 

“We will also evaluate multi-dose strategies, followed by single-dose immunization, heterologous vaccination strategies, and the impact of waning immunity,” said Kosten. The Kosten team will provide expert input into the regulatory strategy for meetings with the US Food and Drug Administration.

An adjuvant molecule boosts the immune system’s response to vaccines, a critical component for the effectiveness of anti-addiction vaccines. The vaccine candidate targets fentanyl, a synthetic and very potent opioid. 

An anti-opioid vaccine would protect the brain and nervous system by stimulating the body to create powerful antibodies that target and bind to opioid molecules, preventing them from crossing the blood-brain barrier to reach the brain. By blocking opioids from the brain, the vaccine would reduce respiratory depression from opioids when they reach the brain.

Leading the vaccine project in Boston are principal investigators Dr. Ofer Levy, M.D., and David Dowling, of Boston Children’s Precision Vaccines Program, along with additional support from Dr. Sharon Levy, M.D., director of Boston Children’s Adolescent Substance Use and Addiction program and Elissa Weitzman of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine. 

This project has been funded in whole or in part with federal funds from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, under Contract No. 75N93020C00038 as described in Article H.36 of the contract. 

The NIH HEAL Initiative is an aggressive, trans-NIH effort to speed scientific solutions to stem the national opioid public health crisis. 

Medical Review by