Opiant Pharmaceuticals said today it has acquired exclusive development and commercialization rights to a preclinical heroin vaccine developed by researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) and the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
The value of Opiant’s license was not disclosed.
The vaccine candidate is designed to work by inducing antibodies that bind to heroin in the bloodstream, preventing the drug from crossing the blood–brain barrier, thus blocking its euphoria and addictive effects. The researchers worked with organic chemists to join the heroin analog to a carrier protein, in order to improve its immune-inducing effect.
NIDA funded preclinical research into the candidate, while WRAIR applied its expertise in novel adjuvants research to increase the immune response of the vaccine.
“Aggressively addressing heroin addiction is part of Opiant’s mission,” Opiant CEO Roger Crystal, M.D., said in a statement. “This vaccine fits our plan to develop innovative treatments for this condition. The vaccine has promising preclinical data.”
If further preclinical testing is successful, Opiant said, it plans to work with researchers at WRAIR’s U.S. Military HIV Research Program to eventually combine the heroin vaccine with their HIV vaccine candidate.
Opiant—which changed its name in February from Lightlake Therapeutics—developed Narcan® Nasal Spray (naloxone HCl), an opioid overdose reversal treatment marketed by commercial partner Adapt Pharma. Narcan won FDA approval in November 2015, and received regulatory clearance in Canada earlier this month.
“Whilst our development of Narcan® Nasal Spray to reverse opioid overdose has been a significant effort to address the unfortunate consequences of heroin addiction, we see the vaccine as having potential in addressing the disease itself,” Dr. Crystal added.