Scientists have developed an experimental cocaine vaccine that blocks the drug’s powerfully seductive “high” by spawning antibodies that mop up drug particles in the bloodstream before they reach the brain.
The vaccine, if it proves effective, could be used to treat overdoses, ease addicts’ cravings and maybe even reduce addiction, said Alan Leshner, a neuroscientist and director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Psychological and behavioral techniques are used now to treat cocaine addiction. Various experimental drugs are being studied, but none have shown more than very modest results, said Frank Vocci, a pharmacologist with the national institute.
‘I believe the single most important thing this country needs to solve the cocaine problem is to develop a medication - either for overdose or for craving,” Leshner said.
The vaccine blocked the behavioral signs of cocaine addiction in rats and markedly reduced the amount of cocaine in their brains, according to a report published Thursday in the journal Nature.
“This is the first published report of the production of antibodies to block cocaine’s transport to the brain,” Leshner said.
It is not known how long the vaccine’s effects would persist in the human body. But it should be possible to give booster shots, as with tetanus immunizations.
Among other unknowns is whether the vaccine, in addition to preventing a high, will ease cocaine addiction.
“Addictive behavior is the next thing we’re going to look at,” said Kim D. Janda, a chemist and molecular biologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif.
Researchers could not say how long it might take before the vaccine is tested in humans.