16 Jul Cocaine Vaccine Study Has Disappointing Results
For more than 20 years, various groups of researchers have been working on vaccines designed to provide protection against the mind-altering effects of cocaine. In a study published in April 2014 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from several U.S. institutions assessed the progress made on a specific cocaine vaccine called succinyl norcocaine, which has advanced to a testing stage involving humans.
Vaccines were originally developed to fight the effects of dangerous and potentially deadly microorganisms that can enter the human body. When any given person first encounters these microorganisms, the immune system does not initially recognize them as a threat. This means that, for a certain amount of time, viruses, bacteria and other invaders have more or less free reign inside the body and can cause extensive damage before an immune response begins. Traditional vaccines produce their benefits by preemptively introducing a controlled form of a harmful microorganism into the body. The immune system attacks this controlled microorganism, and thereby learns how to recognize it in the future and rapidly respond to its appearance. Some vaccines produce relatively minor symptoms related to the diseases they’re designed to prevent; others produce no clearly identifiable symptoms.
Doctors have no proven medication options for curbing the effects of non-addicted cocaine abuse or cocaine addiction. For this and other reasons, researchers have been exploring the possibility of creating a cocaine vaccine since the early 1990s. In principle, such a vaccine would produce its benefits by “tagging” cocaine molecules in the bloodstream, alerting the immune system to the presence of those molecules and triggering an immune response that prevents cocaine from reaching the brain. Researchers have struggled to develop vaccine material capable of creating the required immune system reaction to cocaine. They have also struggled to find biological material suitable for transporting vaccine material through the bloodstream. The development of the succinyl norcocaine vaccine began in the mid-1990s. As of 2014, the vaccine has passed through laboratory trials on animals and entered the phase of research designed to assess its effects in human test subjects.
Is There Progress?
In the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Texas and five other U.S. universities analyzed the results of a 24-week trial established to help determine the effectiveness of the succinyl norcocaine vaccine in humans dealing with serious cocaine problems. A total of 300 crack cocaine users took part in this trial; these individuals had an average age of 46 and had been using cocaine for an average of 13 days in any given month. One hundred thirty of the participants received succinyl norcocaine. The researchers specifically looked at the effectiveness of the vaccine during an eight-week period in the middle of the trial. They gauged this effectiveness by taking urine samples from the study participants three times a week.
The researchers found that 67 percent of the participants who received succinyl norcocaine had “high” levels of the vaccine in their bloodstreams after going through five vaccinations. When compared to the participants who had “low” levels of the vaccine in circulation, these individuals dropped out of the trial only roughly one-third as often. At the beginning of the study, the vaccine recipients submitted more cocaine-free urine samples than their counterparts who received a placebo medication instead of the vaccine. In addition, the vaccine recipients with high levels of succinyl norcocaine in their systems were more likely to submit cocaine-free urine samples than the recipients with low levels of the vaccine in their systems. However, neither group submitted enough cocaine-free urine samples to achieve significantly different results than the study participants who received a placebo. At the close of the study period, the high succinyl norcocaine group, low succinyl norcocaine group and the placebo group all had a roughly equal chance of submitting cocaine-free urine samples.
The study’s authors concluded that succinyl norcocaine is generally safe to use. However, they note that, considering the cocaine abstinence results they observed in the participants, their findings do not fully support the conclusions of an earlier succinyl norcocaine study, which found the vaccine to be more effective than placebo treatment.
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