The Scripps Research Institute was awarded a $1.6 million grant by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to support the preclinical studies of a potential heroin vaccine.

The 2-year Translational Avant-Garde Award supports the development of medications for substance use disorders. It comes with the possibility of 3 additional years of funding.

If effective, this vaccine could help many addicts and families in the United States. “There are a lot of people and families affected by heroin addiction,” said Kim Janda, PhD, the Ely R. Callaway Jr. Professor of Chemistry and member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), in a press release

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Dr. Janda and colleagues at TSRI developed the heroin vaccine in 2013. The vaccine — which has been proven safe in mouse models of heroin addiction — works by training immune system antibodies to recognize and bind to heroin molecules, blocking the drug’s active products from reaching the brain and triggering a “high” sensation. The researchers hope that without that high, recovering addicts will be much less likely to relapse.

For the next phase of their research, the TSRI scientists have partnered with collaborators from Virginia Commonwealth University and Molecular Express, Inc to further refine the vaccine. They will test its stability and work to determine its optimal manufacturing process. They will then test its safety and effectiveness in primates.

This data will lay the groundwork for clinical trials and future consideration for approval by the FDA, Dr. Janda said.

He also hopes to use a similar strategy to create vaccines for other abused opioids such as oxycodone (Oxycotin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin).