Could a vaccine crack cocaine abuse?

Antidrug vaccines were first discussed in the 1970s, and cocaine vaccines have been in the works since the early 1990s. However, there have been few clinical trials so far, and no anti-cocaine vaccine has yet been approved by the FDA. But now, Immunovaccine ($IMV) has hooked up with Weill Cornell Medical College to combine the college's vaccine with its DepoVax adjuvant platform, pushing up Immunovaccine's shares by 12.5%.

The idea behind a cocaine vaccine is it uses the immune system to block the drug getting to the brain, thus preventing any buzz or high. In 2011, Weill Cornell Medical College announced it had developed a vaccine made up of a viral vector and a cocaine analog that raised anti-cocaine antibodies and protected mice against the effects of the drug. The two groups hope the vaccine and adjuvant technology combination will create a response that is stronger and longer lasting in animal studies. The next step then, of course, will be clinical trials.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, is funding the project. In 2009, Dr. Nora Volkow, NIDA director, when discussing cocaine addiction told TIME Health: "Vaccines are one of our top priorities."

In 2009, roughly 4.8 million Americans abused cocaine, so there is a considerable potential market. A successful cocaine vaccine could help those individuals who want to ditch the habit. However, one issue is that vaccines may not cut the craving, so these would have to be well-motivated (or well-supported) people. Where antidrug vaccines get controversial is the idea of using them on young people before they try drugs to stop them ever getting hooked--is that good parenting or creating a nanny state?

- read the press release
- see the article on cocaine vaccines from Medscape (reg. req.)
- check out the piece in The Chronicle Herald
- read the 2009 article in TIME Health

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