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Other Vaccine Candidates

Heroin Vaccine

In 2012, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) of the National Institutes of Health awarded a $5 million grant to MHRP scientists to support the research and development of a heroin vaccine. The ultimate goal is to combine this with a safe, effective HIV vaccine to concurrently address the entwined epidemics of heroin abuse and HIV and provide considerable public health benefit.

Originally developed as a pain reliever, heroin easily flows past the blood-brain barrier and evokes a powerful sense of euphoria and relief. Leveraging MHRP’s novel adjuvants research, scientists are working on developing a vaccine that induces antibodies that bind to the drug in the bloodstream, preventing the drug from reaching the brain.

In preclinical studies, the vaccine-induced antibodies that prevented heroin from crossing the blood-brain barrier in mice and rats for a period of up to three months. By binding heroin in the blood and thus reducing its passage into the brain, the vaccine aims to block the euphoria and addictive effects of heroin and other commonly misused opioids.

Researchers at MHRP and partners at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y., have been awarded a grant to advance the experimental heroin vaccine through Phase I/IIa clinical trials to assess both its safety and its efficacy against a morphine challenge.

Principal Investigator: Gary Matyas, Ph.D 



Following an investment from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a unique HIV vaccine candidate developed by MHRP scientists in collaboration with Advanced BioScience laboratories will be produced for potential use in clinical studies.

The move to further test the new protein boost vaccine candidate—a subtype C gp145 Env subunit vaccine—came about after the success of the MHRP-led RV144 trial renewed interest in this type of vaccine. RV144 showed V2 antibodies (a type of antibody also elicited by gp145), correlated with a lower risk of HIV infection. In the RV144 trial, a subunit protein boost was similarly used to effectively generate antibodies. 

The research team, led by MHRP’s Dr. Vicky Polonis, based the gp145 subunit vaccine on HIV subtype C, which represents more than 50% of global HIV infections. In addition to its prevalence, several studies have shown unique properties of C envelopes, or the outer coat of the virus, including rapid and potent antibody elicitation. These properties make the subtype C gp145 an attractive vaccine candidate.