A bacteriophage virus-like particle vaccine against oxycodone elicits high-titer and long-lasting antibodies that sequester drug in the blood

Vaccine. 2024 Jan 25;42(3):471-480. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2023.12.077. Epub 2023 Dec 29.


Opioid use disorder (OUD) and opioid overdoses are public health emergencies. In 2021, 80,000 opioid overdose associated deaths were reported in the United States. Despite the availability of treatment strategies, including medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) and naloxone, opioid overdoses continue to increase at an alarming rate. Opioid vaccines are a novel approach to combat the growing crisis with several candidates recently entering human clinical trials. In this study, we investigated Qβ bacteriophage virus-like particles (VLPs) as a vaccine platform for immunogenic display of oxycodone. A derivative of oxycodone was conjugated to pre-formed Qβ VLPs using a sulfhydryl-amine reactive heterobifunctional crosslinker with high loading of oxycodone. In mice, intramuscular immunization with Qβ-oxycodone elicited high-titer, high-avidity and long-lasting antibody responses. Qβ-oxycodone was also immunogenic after storage at ambient room temperature for over two weeks, demonstrating that the vaccine is highly thermostable. In mice, immunization with Qβ-oxycodone elicited antibodies that sequester oxycodone in the serum, an important mechanism for preventing the adverse effects of opioid activity. Finally, Qβ-oxycodone is immunogenic in nonhuman primates, eliciting serum oxycodone antibodies after intramuscular immunization of rhesus macaques. These data establish Qβ-oxycodone as a promising opioid vaccine candidate.

Keywords: Antibodies; Opioid; Oxycodone; Vaccine; Virus-like particle.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Animals
  • Antibodies
  • Bacteriophages*
  • Humans
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Mice
  • Opiate Overdose*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / prevention & control
  • Oxycodone
  • Vaccines, Virus-Like Particle*


  • Oxycodone
  • Vaccines, Virus-Like Particle
  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Antibodies