Vaccine being developed to help fight cocaine addiction
Misha Gajewski, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Friday, October 13, 2017 8:31AM EDT
A U.S. doctor is working on creating a vaccine to combat cocaine addiction.
Ron Crystal, a New York-based doctor at Weill Cornell Medicine, first got the idea for this treatment when he passed by a Newsweek magazine that had “addiction vaccine” printed on the cover.
“Suddenly I got this idea that if we hooked an addictive molecule, like cocaine, to a cold virus, or at least the parts of a cold virus, we could trick the immune system into thinking it was a cold virus and would develop immunity against cocaine,” Dr. Crystal told CTV’s Your Morning.
While the vaccine wouldn’t get rid of the cravings a person experiences, it could get rid of his or her ability to get high and hopefully help make it easier to quit using.
The vaccine works by blocking the cocaine from ever reaching the brain.
“What we do is we induce antibodies,” said Dr. Crystal, explaining the antibodies are like “Pac-Men” specific for cocaine floating around in the blood. “So if you snort some cocaine, the antibodies or the little Pac-Men will bind it up and prevent it from reaching the brain so you won’t get a high.”
The vaccine has already shown to be successful in animal trials.
“We can give experimental animals a shot of cocaine and it doesn’t touch them at all,” Dr. Crystal said.
However, it is still unclear if humans will respond in the same way animals have. Crystal and his team have now started recruiting for their first human clinical trial.
The trial will involve 30 people and is expected to finish sometime in 2019 .
But even if human trials are successful, it is likely years away from being available to the public.
For the time being, Dr. Crystal told Your Morning that he is only looking at a vaccine for cocaine but added that in the future the vaccine could be used for other addictive substances.
“We could hook heroine or fentanyl or methamphetamine or nicotine or any addictive molecules and theoretically it should work,” he said.
According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Adduction, addiction costs Canada an estimated $40 billion a year and in 2016 in Canada, approximately 2,500 people died from opioid-related causes.