The University of Montana has received its largest research award in history, to help find a vaccine to combat opioid addiction.

Scott Whittenburg, UM Vice President for Research and Creative Scholarship provided details on the research grant from the National Institute of Health HEAL initiative.

We had a large research grant that's been awarded, and I think it's the largest research grant in the history of the university for $33 million to do research into opiates.

“We had a large research grant that's been awarded, and I think it's the largest research grant in the history of the university for $33 million to do research into opiates,” said Whittenburg. “Opioid addiction is a huge problem for the state of Montana as it is across the country, and so we believe there's an opportunity to look for vaccines for the addiction to opioids.”

Whittenburg traced the stratospheric growth in research dollars that have flowed into the university for research into dozens of areas, and  no including the search for a vaccine to treat opioid addiction.

“When I started in 2013 at the university, we were doing about $50 million worth of research,” he said. “Now we're up to about 120 million this year, and so that amount of growth and research is probably one of the largest in the country. The other part, I think, is that people don't realize the two pieces. One is the good work that comes out of the outcomes, the big problems that we're tackling, and there's also the commercialization aspect of the companies that are being formed, and the products and services that we provide. I don't know that the general public knows that's going on from the research operations at the university.”

Whittenburg reflected back just a few weeks ago when his department received another prestigious grant to find a vaccine for COVID 19.

“Recently, we had a press release that we sent out that show that we were actually one of the top 10 universities in the world listed for the impact of our research on the COVID crisis,” he said. “So I am hoping that when students see those, when they're considering what university they want to go to, that they'll consider the University of Montana. So I think our research certainly helps drive graduate recruitment and graduate education and I believe it also has some impact on undergraduate recruitment as well.”

Dr. Jay Evans, principle investigator on this award and director of UM’s Center for Translational Medicine, said this is a great opportunity for UM and Missoula to make an impact on a local and global health crisis.