New Anti-Cocaine Vaccine Described

A U.S. team of researchers has described a new single-dose vaccine that provides immunity against the effects of cocaine.

Coca leaf (Marcello Casal Jr. / Agência Brasil)

The breakthrough, published in a paper in the journal Human Gene Therapy, offers a novel and groundbreaking strategy for treating cocaine addiction.

“Cocaine addiction is a major problem affecting all societal and economic classes for which there is no effective therapy,” the researchers said in the paper.

“We hypothesized an effective anti-cocaine vaccine could be developed by using an adeno-associated virus gene transfer vector as the delivery vehicle to persistently express an anti-cocaine monoclonal antibody in vivo, which would sequester cocaine in the blood, preventing access to cognate receptors in the brain.”

The team used a virus-based delivery vehicle in mice to transfer a gene that produces a protein capable of binding to cocaine present in the blood, preventing the cocaine from crossing into the brain. The protein is a monoclonal antibody that sequesters cocaine, making the vaccinated mice resistant to the drug’s effects.

“Whereas unvaccinated mice exhibited hyperactivity when exposed to intravenous cocaine, the immunized mice showed no effects.”

According to the team, “the present study presents a passive immunization strategy in which a high-affinity anti-cocaine antibody is expressed in vivo using an adeno-associated virus-based vector. With a single administration vaccine that persistently produces high-affinity anti-cocaine antibodies, the requirement for proactive engagement by an individual abusing cocaine would be dramatically reduced.”

“This is a very novel approach for addressing the huge medical problem of cocaine addiction,” said Dr James Wilson, Editor-in-chief of Human Gene Therapy, and  Director of the Gene Therapy Program, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

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Bibliographic information: Rosenberg J.B. et al. 2012. AAVrh.10-Mediated Expression of an Anti-Cocaine Antibody Mediates Persistent Passive Immunization That Suppresses Cocaine-Induced Behavior. Human Gene Therapy 23:451–459; doi: 10.1089/hum.2011.178