The University of Montana has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health for over $3 million to develop a vaccine to target opioid addiction.

Director for Translational Medicine at the University of Montana, Jay Evans, explained how the grant was obtained.

“We’ve been working on infectious disease vaccines here at the University of Montana for a very long time,” said Evans. “When NIH put out a call for people to work on things that could target opioids, we thought it was a perfect opportunity to develop an opioid vaccine, so through our contacts at the NIH and some partners at the University of Minnesota, we applied for funding to develop a novel opioid use disorder vaccine.”

Evans explained in layman’s terms how the vaccine would block the effects of opioids, especially since relapses are so common for those addicted to the drugs.

“The antibodies will bind the drugs in the blood and prevent it from crossing the blood-brain barrier,” he said. “It does two things. One, it helps them quit because when they relapse and use the drug again and they get no positive effect from it, and second, because we’re binding up the drug in the bloodstream, it also prevents an overdose, so hopefully it will save lives.”

Evans said due to the extraordinary amount of time it takes to develop and test any new vaccine, it will be anywhere from five to seven years before the vaccine would be available to the public, however, once that process has been completed, the University of Montana will benefit from its release.

“If this is successful and moves forward, we’ll likely end up doing a licensing deal with a company that will then help develop and commercialize the vaccine,” he said. “As part of that the university will likely receive milestone and royalty payments that will then go back and fund more research and operations here at the university.”

The UM Center for Translational Medicine was established in 2017.