Cocaine Vaccine's Future

Drug addiction may be curbed by new technology in drug vaccinations

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Scientists have developed a cocaine vaccine that uses the common cold virus to engage the immune system and blocks the drug’s absorption. Early stages of testing show great promise.

A new preclinical trial tested the neurological action of a cocaine vaccine. Special brain scans showed exactly how the vaccine is behaving in the brain.

"Seek treatment if you have a drug problem."

Shankar Vallabhajosula, PhD, professor of radiochemistry in the department of radiology at the Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University in New York City, led investigations into how cocaine vaccinations work to prevent further drug abuse.

The vaccine is a disrupted adenovirus called dAd5GNE, and was engineered by Ronald Crystal, MD, professor and chairman of genetic medicine also from Weill Cornell Medical College. The vaccine’s design takes a cocaine-like molecule and piggy backs it onto a section of the common cold virus.

The cold virus is used to get the attention of the immune system, which then triggers antibodies to attack the virus. Later, when cocaine enters the body, the antibodies caused from the vaccination will bind to the cocaine and stop it from entering the brain.

Unless cocaine is allowed to enter the brain to bind with the neurotransmitter dopamine, it cannot enter the pleasure center of the brain to produce its euphoric effect.

In order to prove the action of the vaccine, scientists needed to come up with real evidence of its actions by injecting the vaccine into the body and doing a positron emission tomography (PET) scan.

Researchers are using the PET scan for this test by injecting imaging probes that bind to the same dopamine transporters that the cocaine vaccine prevents the cocaine from attaching to.

Vallabhajosula states: “Vaccination offers a whole new treatment paradigm for drug addiction. Not only can molecular imaging, based on a dopamine transporter (DAT) PET scan, provide objective proof that this vaccine is working as a treatment for cocaine addiction but it could also potentially be used to assess the effectiveness of vaccines for heroin, nicotine and other addictions.”

“This study reaffirms the beauty of the vaccine and demonstrates that PET imaging with tracers targeting dopamine centers in the brain are a powerful tool for assessing addiction.”

The dAd5GNE vaccine is still in preclinical animal testing stages, and not yet available to the public. The results are promising for the future of drug abuse prevention.

Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse claims that 1.4 million people in the United States were known to be addicted to cocaine in 2008 alone. People between 18 and 25 years of age make up the most common demographic for cocaine abuse.

This study was presented at the Society of Nuclear Medicine’s 59th Annual Meeting, June 9, 2012, Miami Beach, Florida. No financial information was given.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 20, 2012
Last Updated:
November 12, 2012