Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Scientist Closer to Creating Addiction Vaccine

Dr. Kim Janda, pictured, is a visionary in addictionology.
A shot to stop measles, the flu, Chicken Pox, HPV, Hepatitis B, Tetanus…and drug addiction?

Twenty-five years of intensive research and over 200 million dollars in clinical studies later, Dr. Kim Janda is slightly closer to having a vaccine to curb drug addiction.
Although it’s uncertain if or when a vaccine will be a viable option for addicts, Janda, a professor at the Scripps Research Institute, has made considerable breakthroughs in helping people stay clean off illicit drugs. This July, Dr. Janda’s lab announced that it produced a vaccine that dulled the effects of heroin on rats. Rodents given the vaccine didn’t get high from heroin, so they stopped using the drug, in contrast to the rats that helped themselves to heroin after experiencing its pain-deadening effects.
Still, Dr. Janda has a long way to go before the vaccine becomes a reality in the fight against drug addiction. Janda’s phase 2 trial for a nicotine vaccine was declared a failure after people who were administered the vaccine stopped smoking no faster than those given a placebo. Dr. Janda’s vaccines have yet to meet approval by the Food and Drug Administration.
Like vaccines against disease, the vaccines introduce small amounts of foreign substances into the bloodstream, enabling the immune system to create antibodies that will attack the substance the next time it appears. However, drug molecules tend to be tiny, much smaller than disease molecules, so immune systems have difficulty detecting them. So, Dr. Janda attaches the drug to a larger protein to act as a platform. (So far, vaccines have been ineffective against marijuana and alcohol. With alcohol, the molecules are too small to attach to a protein, and THC (the main ingredient generating the high in marijuana) is too well concealed in the body.)
Unlike current anti-opiates used to treat addiction like Suboxone and methadone, Janda’s addiction vaccine does not mess with brain chemistry or create a mild high.
Despite disappointments, experts expect Dr. Janda to eventually succeed. Dr. Nora Yolkov, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, calls him a “visionary” for seeing the potential to treat addiction with medicine decades before others. The institute is a primary source of funding for Dr. Janda’s research.
Other scientists are also working on vaccines to treat addiction to narcotics, including vaccines for cocaine and methamphetamines. Finding interest—and funding—have been hard to come by. Big Pharma tends to be weary of associating itself with a highly stigmatized and “criminal” disease.

If Janda's vaccine is one day approved by the FDA, it will still not solve the key psychological problems causing addiction. Ideally, the vaccine would inhibit effects of narcotics, making addicts less likely to use the drugs. However, this would lead some addicts to just take more of the drug to feel an effect, possibly overdosing. Also, there’s no guarantee that an addict wouldn’t switch to another drug (e.g. a Heroin addict switching to meth) to get high. The vaccine also can’t cure the underlying psychological reasons an addict uses.
Although the vaccine wouldn’t be a cure for drug addiction per se, any scientific progress in treating addiction is welcome. Addiction is a deadly disease, and it's promising that medical tools, however blunt, are beginning to emerge in the multi-front battle against it.
Related Articles:
Scripps scientist devotes himself to finding the perfect addiction vax: http://www.fiercebiotech.com/story/scripps-scientist-devotes-himself-finding-perfect-addiction-vax/2011-10-04

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