Novel vaccine produces strong immunity against cocaine high

Researchers from The Scripps Research Institute, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Cornell University have produced a long-lasting anti-cocaine immunity in mice by giving them a unique vaccine that combines bits of the common cold virus with a particle that mimics cocaine.

In their study, published January 4, 2011, in the advanced online edition of Molecular Therapy, the researchers say this novel strategy might be the first to offer cocaine addicts a fairly simple way to break and reverse their habit. The approach could also be useful in treating other addictions, such as to nicotine, heroin, and methamphetamine.

''Our very dramatic data shows that we can protect mice against the effects of cocaine, and we think this approach could be very promising in fighting addiction in humans,'' says the study's lead investigator, Ronald G. Crystal, chair and professor of genetic medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College.

''The vaccine suppresses the stimulant effects of the drug,'' said Scripps Research Professor Kim Janda, a co-author of the paper and a pioneer in the field of developing vaccines against addictive drugs such as cocaine. ''Unlike other types of treatment, a vaccine such as this one does not interfere with the neurological targets of the drug, but instead blocks cocaine from ever reaching the brain in the first place.''

In the new study, the vaccine effect lasted for at least 13 weeks, the longest time point evaluated in such an approach. Since the vaccine likely will not require multiple expensive infusions, the researchers hope that it can move quickly into human trials.

Clinically, this sort of therapy could be given to people in treatment programs to aid in their recovery. And, like most other types of treatment, it will only be useful for those who want the help.