Addiction vaccines face added funding hurdles

As vaccine targets expand beyond communicable diseases, the New York Times notes that vaccines could hold promise for millions who suffer from addiction. While none have been approved, the potential of therapeutic vaccines for obesity and for addictions to narcotics or smoking has become a tangible possibility. But researchers in the growing field still face a major obstacle: funding.

The NYT blames the stigma surrounding drug addiction on the lack of funding, lauding the National Institute on Drug Abuse as a major financial backer in the arena. One researcher in particular, Dr. Kim Janda, a professor at the Scripps Research Institute, has run the gamut in addiction vaccine financing. The results ranged from disappointing failures to promising company sales; after 27 years in the field, Janda now focuses on the initial research rather than later-stage trials and approvals.

Janda's vaccines focus on antibody responses that will prevent the "high" an addict experiences after using a specific drug. The small addictive particles are attached as a hapten to a protein platform, then mixed with an adjuvant. He's developed candidates for heroin, cocaine, nicotine and obesity, but has had trouble with alcohol and marijuana--the former being too small for the platform, and the latter too evasive. Recently, a Phase II vaccine trial based on Janda's approach produced disappointing results: Placebo patients were just as likely to quit smoking as those receiving the vaccine.

"The beauty of [therapeutic vaccines] is you're not messing with brain chemistry," Janda said to the NYT. "The big problem plaguing these vaccines right now is difficulty predicting in humans how well it's going to work...I guess it's been so devastating in [addicts'] families that they're looking for anything, and there's just nothing out there. It's really sad when you see these types of things."

- read the NYT post