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Promising anti-cocaine treatment aims for human trials within a year

Published on 01/03/17 at 10:59am

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) have developed a monocloncal antibody designed to treat cocaine addiction; its successful showing thus far has raised hopes that it could be tested in humans within a year.

Developed under a $6.28 million three-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, the immunotherapy treatment is derived from a single cell and, once injected into the body, specifically targets cocaine molecules and blocks it from entering the brain, thus reducing its behavioural effects. A humanised version has proven to be successful to this end in an animal model of relapse, raising hopes for human testing, but toxicology studies and a second wave of animal model tests are necessary to secure an investigational drug application with the FDA.

"Initially, everything was pre-clinical. We developed this antibody, and we were able to produce enough to test in animals," said Andrew Norman, Professor in the UC College of Medicine's Department of Pharmacology and Cell Biophysics. "In all our in vivo and in vitro testing, the antibody was very effective, and it worked beautifully. Based on those very successful pre-clinical studies, we got the go ahead to move forward toward clinical studies. This is translational research, moving from molecule to mouse to man."

Acting for 30 days per administration, the antibody could significantly aid those who wish to overcome cocaine addiction, blocking the addictive effects of the drug and lowering the chance of a sustained relapse. However, Norman was very clear that this is not a cure for addiction:

"This will not cure addiction because addiction is presumably a brain affliction," he explained. "This antibody is designed to not let cocaine get to the brain. It can only prevent the cocaine from being able to act to produce its usual effects on the brain. This will aid a person by decreasing the probability that a relapse event will occur. If it does, it will help prevent that event from being maintained."

He also added that research in this area could have promising implications on further investigation into treating addiction.

"If this antibody works the way we believe it will in the body, then it gives clues as to how we should interpret drug effects in other addictive behaviors. There are projects in other laboratories around the country to develop vaccines against addictive drugs such as opioids."

Finally, Norman added that, because the treatment is specifically targeted, it could be supplemented without detriment by a more robust treatment in the future:

"It won't interfere with other drug therapies that come along later on. So if somebody does develop a drug that does interact in the brain on the mechanisms and brain areas where cocaine exerts its effect relevant to its addictive properties, this antibody will be an adjunct to that,” he concluded.

Matt Fellows

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