Cocaine Vaccine Shows Promise for Treating Addiction

October 5, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Immunization with an experimental anti-cocaine vaccine resulted in a substantial reduction in cocaine use in 38 percent of vaccinated patients in a clinical trial supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a component of the National Institutes of Health. The study, published in the October issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, is the first successful, placebo-controlled demonstration of a vaccine against an illicit drug of abuse.

"The results of this study represent a promising step toward an effective medical treatment for cocaine addiction," said NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow." Provided that larger follow-up studies confirm its safety and efficacy, this vaccine would offer a valuable new approach to treating cocaine addiction, for which no FDA-approved medication is currently available."

Like vaccines against infectious diseases such as measles and influenza, the anti-cocaine vaccine stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies. Unlike antibodies against infectious diseases, which destroy or deactivate the disease-causing agents, anti-cocaine antibodies attach themselves to cocaine molecules in the blood, preventing them from passing through the blood-brain barrier. By preventing the drug’s entry into the brain, the vaccine inhibits or blocks the cocaine-induced euphoria.

This study included 115 patients from a methadone maintenance program who were randomly assigned to receive the anti-cocaine vaccine or a placebo (inactive) vaccine. Participants were recruited from a methadone maintenance program because their retention rates are substantially better than programs focused primarily on treatment for cocaine abuse. Participants in both groups received five vaccinations over a 12-week period and were followed for an additional 12 weeks. All participants also took part in weekly relapse-prevention therapy sessions with a trained substance abuse counselor, had their blood tested for antibodies to cocaine, and had their urine tested three times a week for the presence of opioids and cocaine.

Participants differed in the levels of antibodies generated in response to vaccination. Thirty-eight percent attained blood levels of anti-cocaine antibodies thought to be sufficient to block cocaine's euphoric effects. During weeks 9 to 16 (when antibody levels peaked), these participants had significantly more cocaine-free urines than those who received the placebo or those with active vaccine but low levels of anti-cocaine antibodies. Participants with the highest antibody levels had the greatest reductions in cocaine use. No serious adverse effects were associated with vaccine treatment.

"Fifty-three percent of participants in the high-antibody group were abstinent from cocaine more than half the time during weeks 8 to 20, compared with only 23 percent of participants with lower levels of antibodies," said Thomas Kosten, M.D., of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, the study's principal investigator.

"In this study immunization did not achieve complete abstinence from cocaine use," added Dr. Kosten. "Previous research has shown, however, that a reduction in use is associated with a significant improvement in cocaine abusers’ social functioning and thus is therapeutically meaningful."

Dr. Kosten led the study in collaboration with colleagues from Yale University School of Medicine, the Connecticut Veterans Administration (VA) Healthcare System, Baylor College of Medicine, and the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center.

Provided by National Institutes of Health

Related Stories

Recommended for you

How rogue immune cells cross the blood-brain barrier to cause multiple sclerosis

November 21, 2017
Drug designers working on therapeutics against multiple sclerosis should focus on blocking two distinct ways rogue immune cells attack healthy neurons, according to a new study in the journal Cell Reports.

New simple test could help cystic fibrosis patients find best treatment

November 21, 2017
Several cutting-edge treatments have become available in recent years to correct the debilitating chronic lung congestion associated with cystic fibrosis. While the new drugs are life-changing for some patients, they do not ...

Cinnamon turns up the heat on fat cells

November 21, 2017
New research from the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute has determined how a common holiday spice—cinnamon—might be enlisted in the fight against obesity.

Researchers discover key signaling protein for muscle growth

November 20, 2017
Researchers at the University of Louisville have discovered the importance of a well-known protein, myeloid differentiation primary response gene 88 (MyD88), in the development and regeneration of muscles. Ashok Kumar, Ph.D., ...

New breast cell types discovered by multidisciplinary research team

November 20, 2017
A joint effort by breast cancer researchers and bioinformaticians has provided new insights into the molecular changes that drive breast development.

Brain cell advance brings hope for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

November 20, 2017
Scientists have developed a new system to study Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in the laboratory, paving the way for research to find treatments for the fatal brain disorder.

5 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

dferrantino
not rated yet Oct 05, 2009
Two questions:
How did they know the subjects were abstinent? The PopSci version of this article implies it was only the urine test.
How are they certain the antibodies are attacking the cocaine before it hits the brain? Couldn't it be that the drug is having the intended effect and not being eliminated until afterwards?
chaostaco
5 / 5 (1) Oct 05, 2009
Now we just need to require public officials to get the vaccine so we might get some sober leadership.
brant
5 / 5 (1) Oct 05, 2009
I wonder if they could make something like this for religion.
Nemo
5 / 5 (1) Oct 05, 2009
I'm guessing the craving remains but there is an inability to satisfy it using cocaine. I'd bet serious money that most addicts would then just reach out for the next available drug.
Birthmark
5 / 5 (1) Oct 05, 2009
The only reason they don't have an equivalent of this for smoking, or aren't announcing it anytime soon is due to money. I'm glad this came out, it's going to help so many people, but what kind of greedy sadistic people rule this country that sit back and watch 3 million Americans die a year from tobacco.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.