Scientists develop a vaccine for COCAINE addiction that stops users from getting high – and they want to trial it on humans next year
- The vaccine, called Calixcoca, has shown promising results in animal trials
- It is due to enter human trials, with more than 3,000 people offering to take part
- READ MORE: Decriminalizing drugs doesn’t lead to more overdoses
Scientists in Brazil, one of the world’s largest consumers of cocaine, are developing a vaccine for addiction to the drug and its potent derivative, crack.
Named ‘Calixcoca,’ it works by triggering an immune response that prevents cocaine and crack from reaching the brain, meaning users would no longer get high from the drug, which may help break the addiction cycle.
The experimental shot has shown promising results in animal trials and will soon enter the final stage of trials – testing on humans.
Earlier this year, vaccines for fentanyl and heroin overdoses, which would be given to high-risk drug users, were also shown to be successful in animal studies and are due to enter human trials next year, suggesting vaccines could be a novel way of getting a grip on America’s overdose problem.
Named ‘Calixcoca,’ the vaccine works by triggering an immune response that prevents cocaine and crack from reaching the brain, meaning users would no longer get high from the drug, which may help break the addiction cycle
So far, Calixcoca has proved to be effective in tests on animals, generating antibodies against cocaine with minimal side effects
When someone snorts cocaine, the powder is absorbed into the blood through the nasal tissues.
People may also rub the drug onto their gums or dissolve it in water and inject it, where it reaches the bloodstream quickly and makes the drug’s effects more intense.
Brazil’s vaccine works by prompting the immune system to release antibodies that attach to cocaine molecules in the blood.
This makes the molecules too large to enter the brain’s mesolimbic pathway or the ‘reward center’ of the brain. Here, the drug would stimulate high levels of the pleasure-inducing hormone dopamine.
By blocking the molecules, the vaccine would prevent a person from feeling the high they usually experience after taking the drug.
The shot is not intended to reverse cocaine overdoses but is hoping to prevent an addict from taking the drug in the first place because of the lack of a high.
It is not clear if the vaccine is administered as a single shot or over a number of injections.
If the vaccine attains regulatory approval, it would be the first time cocaine addiction has been treated using a vaccine.
Psychiatrist Frederico Garcia, head of the team that developed the treatment at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil, told AFP while attempts had been made to create a similar shot in the US, they were halted when results from clinical trials were not strong enough.
Psychiatrist Frederico Garcia is head of the team that developed the treatment at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil
So far, Calixcoca has proved to be effective in tests on animals, generating antibodies against cocaine with minimal side effects.
It is now due to enter human trials, and Dr Garcia said more than 3,000 people have contacted his team to volunteer in the clinical trials.
Last week, the vaccine won the top prize – half a million dollars – at the Euro Health Innovation awards for Latin American medicine.
There is currently no registered treatment for cocaine and crack addiction, Dr Garcia said, and an addict’s only option is a combination of ‘psychological counseling, social assistance and rehabilitation.’
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The vaccine would assist patients at their most critical stages of recovery, such as when they leave rehab, he added.
It was also found to protect rat fetuses against cocaine, researchers found, suggesting it could be given to pregnant addicts to protect their unborn babies.
The shot is made entirely from chemical compounds designed in a lab, rather than biological ingredients, which is how many other vaccines, like some for cancer, are made.
This means it is cheaper to make and does not have to be stored at low temperatures.
If approved, the vaccine will not be available to everyone, Dr Garcia said, but will go to recovering addicts who have stopped taking cocaine and want to stay off the drug.
In the US, cocaine is a Schedule II substance, alongside fentanyl, methamphetamines and morphine. In the UK, it is a Class A drug — or among those with the highest potential for abuse.
Crack, a derivative of cocaine, is made by cooking cocaine powder with baking soda, then breaking it into small pieces called rocks. Crack cocaine looks like white or tan pellets.
Both crack and cocaine are highly addictive. One in four regular cocaine users becomes addicted in America, and only one in four of those addicts manages to quit after five years of treatment.
Globally, the cocaine industry is worth around $130 billion.
Drug overdose deaths involving cocaine have been steadily rising over the years, from 6,784 in 2015 to 15,883 in 2019. By 2021, deaths had increased sharply to 24,486.
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