Cocaine Vaccine stops High

Author:  Brittany Raffa

Date:  January 2008

A cocaine vaccine developed by the U.K. pharmaceutical company Xenova eliminates the "high" addicts feel by activating the immune system to attack cocaine molecules. A press report released by the Associated Press on January 1, 2008 explains the study, which is lead by psychiatric professor Dr. Tom Kosten and his wife Therese, a psychologist and neuroscientist, both researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

The immune system is normally unable to make antibodies against cocaine and other drug molecules because the molecules are too small. Kosten by-passed this dilemma by creating modified cocaine which could be injected to mount an immune response. The modified cocaine was made by attaching inactivated cocaine to the outer layer of inactivated cholera proteins. The antibodies created bind to the cholera/cocaine combination and prevent it from reaching the brain. This premature halt in the pathway prevents the addictive "highs" which occur when cocaine molecules reach the brain. This is a breakthrough in the current treatment for cocaine addiction, which is based on psychiatric counseling and 12-step programs.

"It stops the cocaine from being able to get across from the blood into the brain, which is where you get the high and, of course, where you get the addiction. If somebody takes the vaccine as part of a program in a drug center and after a month or so is out and takes another dose of cocaine, they won't get the high and they won't get the re-addiction," explained David Oxlade, chief executive of Xenova.

Despite positive expectations, an ethical issue arises from treatment with the new drug. Cocaine users may turn to other drugs to replace the high previously obtained by cocaine use if the intricate social and psychological issues of the patient are not resolved. This problem could be addressed by first giving the drug to former cocaine users who have quit but who are in danger of a relapse.

Lesley King-Lewis, chief executive of Action on Addiction, said, "There is no substitute drug available to use in treatment for cocaine addicts, so any extra help is vital in helping them to lead normal lives again." However, she warned that "the vaccine must stimulate a very strong immune response so that every single cocaine molecule is mopped up if someone uses again. Otherwise a small number could get through and act like a teaser, causing the person to take even more to satisfy their cravings completely."

There are 2 million regular cocaine users in the U.S., 900,000 of which seek therapy each year. Cocaine is the second most commonly abused drug after alcohol and the average age of a cocaine user is 42. Kosten asked the Food and Drug Administration in December to begin a multi-institutional trial in the spring and is waiting for the response.

Other resources for further information:

Time Q & A: The Ethics of Vaccination,8599,1701973,00.html

Written by Brittany Raffa

Reviewed by Falishia Sloan, Pooja Ghatalia

Published by Pooja Ghatalia