Health & Science

University of Houston fentanyl vaccine research a ‘game changer’, Gov. Greg Abbott says

The UH vaccine eliminates “the high” of the drug and the possibility of overdosing.

William Menjivar / Houston Public Media
Gov. Greg Abbott visited the University of Houston on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. UH is developing a fentanyl vaccine, which Abbott says could be a game changer.

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Gov. Greg Abbott visited Houston on Thursday to preview a new fentanyl vaccine being developed by University of Houston researchers.

During his visit, Abbott praised the work of UH’s Drug Discovery Institute and said the vaccine would be a “game changer” in reducing fentanyl-related deaths.

"This is going to to address what’s turned out to be one of the most serious, lethal problems we have in our country,” Abbott said. “This is an extraordinarily deadly problem.”

Abbott also emphasized the importance of investing in top-tier research universities in Texas.

“Texas is the knowledge capitol of the United States. Texas is the research and innovation capitol of the United States,” Abbott said. “Today, we celebrate one of those innovations. This happens to be a healthcare innovation that’s going to be transformative in saving lives.”

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that was originally developed for pain management treatment of cancer patients and is 50-100 times stronger than morphine. Over time, the chemical has been added to heroin to increase its potency, leading to an increase in overdose deaths, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Dr. Colin Haile with the UH’s Drug Discovery Institute is one of the lead researchers working on the vaccine. He said on Friday’s edition of Houston Matters that the vaccine produces antibodies that target fentanyl once it enters a person’s system and prevents the chemical from getting to the brain.

As a result, the antibodies eliminate “the high” of the drug and the possibility of overdosing.

“The unparalleled overdose deaths that have occurred in this country is a major concern,” Haile said. “We focused on developing vaccine the fentanyl vaccine to address this problem.”

Haile said he hopes to begin human trials of the vaccine within the next 12 months. Researchers must first perform toxicology testing in rodents and submit that data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before moving forward, he added.

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