A vaccine against addiction
Johannesburg - Injections likely to quell a craving for cigarettes and even hard drugs like cocaine could provide a solution within the next five years for millions of addicts worldwide.
British researchers recently completed the first phase safety tests for a cocaine addiction vaccine. The vaccine, TA-CA, being developed by bio-technical manufacturer Xenova reportedly blocks the "highs" cocaine users experience.
The brain appears to have a kind of barrier blocking toxin penetration. Cocaine and nicotine molecules however are small enough to penetrate the barrier.
The new vaccine enables the body's immune system to identify cocaine and nicotine molecules, allowing large numbers of antibodies to bind with them. The resultant molecule is then too large to penetrate the brain.
In conjunction with traditional rehabilitation the vaccine will hopefully block the drug's effects on the brain - breaking the addict's dependence.
Xenova spokesperson Hilary Reid Evans said on Wednesday that a short course of injections would possibly be the most likely treatment.
In the first series of tests the vaccine's safety was determined. In the next step an effective dosage is determined. Groups of 10 to 12 addicts participate in the study. Extensive phase 3 tests have to be completed before the medication can be approved by regulatory authorities.
Evans added it was difficult to predict when the vaccine would be available. She estimates phase 3 tests could take anything between two to three years to complete and registration could take another year.
Xenova is in the process of testing phase one trials on a similar tobacco vaccine, which prevents nicotine from entering the brain. TA-Nic results should be completed later this year.
Elmien Britz, a social worker at the First Step alcohol and drug rehabilitation centre in Sandton, Johannesburg, said a vaccine against cocaine addiction would help but should not be administered in isolation.
"Similar medication for heroin is available on the market and we are using it. It blocks the drug's effects. Normally we try and stay away from medication as it deprives patients from taking control of their own rehabilitation process if we stuff them with tablets. Underlying causes of addiction also need to be treated by means of group and individual therapy."