Scientists in Brazil, the second-largest consumer of cocaine globally, have introduced an innovative vaccine as a treatment for addiction to cocaine and crack. This vaccine, known as “Calixcoca,” has demonstrated promising results in animal trials by eliciting an immune response that prevents cocaine and crack from reaching the brain. The researchers behind this breakthrough hope that it will aid users in breaking free from addiction by eliminating the drug’s euphoric effects.
If regulatory approval is obtained, this would mark the first instance of using a vaccine to treat cocaine addiction. Frederico Garcia, a psychiatrist and the coordinator of the team responsible for developing the treatment at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, expressed this sentiment.
The project recently won a prestigious award, sponsored by pharmaceutical company Eurofarma, at the Euro Health Innovation awards for Latin American medicine. The prize money for this accolade amounted to 500,000 euros ($530,000).
The vaccine operates by prompting patients’ immune systems to generate antibodies that bind to cocaine molecules in the bloodstream. Consequently, these antibodies render the molecules too large to enter the brain’s mesolimbic system, referred to as the “reward center.” This prohibits the drug from stimulating dopamine production, which leads to a pleasurable experience.
Similar studies have been conducted in the United States, the largest consumer of cocaine worldwide, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. However, these studies encountered difficulties, including inadequate results during clinical trials. Frederico Garcia cites this as one of the reasons for the setbacks.
Calixcoca has exhibited effectiveness in animal testing, generating significant levels of antibodies against cocaine with minimal side effects. Researchers have also discovered that it can safeguard rat fetuses against the detrimental effects of cocaine. This suggests that it could potentially be used in humans to protect the unborn children of pregnant addicts.
The vaccine is now progressing to the final phase of trials, where it will be tested on humans.
Garcia believes that Calixcoca has the potential to revolutionize addiction treatment. He emphasizes the absence of a specific registered treatment for cocaine and crack addiction, with current therapy including psychological counseling, social assistance, and rehabilitation when necessary.
The introduction of Calixcoca could act as a valuable addition to this treatment regimen, aiding patients during critical stages of recovery, such as post-rehabilitation. An essential advantage of this vaccine is its manufacturing process, which employs lab-designed chemical compounds rather than biological components. Consequently, it can be produced at a lower cost compared to many other vaccines and does not require refrigeration.
However, Garcia cautions against viewing Calixcoca as a universal solution. The specific target group for this vaccine will depend on the outcomes of the clinical trials. Nevertheless, it is envisioned to be administered to recovering addicts who have successfully ceased cocaine use and wish to maintain their abstinence.
The objective is to address what Garcia describes as a “troubling statistic”: according to the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, one in four regular cocaine users becomes addicted. Additionally, only 25% of addicts manage to achieve abstinence after five years of treatment.
The high stakes involved have led to significant anticipation surrounding the vaccine. Over 3,000 individuals have already expressed their interest in participating in the forthcoming clinical trials led by Garcia’s team.
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