His heroin and fentanyl vaccines are a first

Scripps Research is home to some of the world’s premier chemists and problem-solvers. And Kim Janda, PhD, ranks among the best of that elite group. When he tackled the issue of heroin addiction, a growing epidemic in today’s society, he looked at it from a chemist’s point of view and took on the challenge of creating vaccines to target the opioid problem.

The vaccines he envisioned would work in partnership with the immune system by training it to recognize heroin and fentanyl as “invaders” and thus put up a strong defense before these drugs could reach pleasure centers in the brain.

Creating these first-of-their-kind vaccines took more than eight years of research, of testing and re-testing, of refining vaccine cocktails and testing them again. But the effort paid off. The vaccines Janda ultimately created have already proven effective in non-human primates while producing no negative side effects. With additional funding, Janda and his team hope to move their promising vaccines into clinical trials in humans.

“I know the costs when a family has a member with a substance-use disorder,” he says. “Current therapies, while useful, are not solving the problem.”

We need to come up with new approaches, and our vaccines may just be a new means to both help end the addiction cycle as well as prevent overdose from these drugs.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 115 Americans die each day from opioid overdose. This determined chemist may have the answer. And for the million or more addicts and their families across the country, Janda’s vaccines may be one answer to their prayers.

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