Two scientists who are developing vaccines to treat addiction are the recipients of NIDA’s 2011 Avant-Garde Awards for Innovative Medication Development Research. Dr. Thomas Kosten of Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, and Dr. Peter Burkhard of the University of Connecticut, Storrs, will each receive $500,000 per year for 5 years to support their research. Dr. Kosten and colleagues are developing a vaccine against methamphetamine abuse; Dr. Burkhard and colleagues, a vaccine to counter nicotine addiction. Both projects will include animal research and initial clinical trials to test the vaccines within the next 5 years.
Currently, there is no medication available for methamphetamine addiction. To address this vital need, Dr. Kosten and colleagues are collaborating with Chinese scientists and manufacturers to produce a vaccine to block methamphetamine’s psychoactive effects and thereby reduce motivation to abuse the drug. The researchers have identified two vaccine components—a protein carrier identified by Kosten’s team and an immune-stimulating molecule approved for use in China—that enhance the production of anti-methamphetamine antibodies. During the next 2 years, the team plans to conduct animal research to test the efficacy of combinations of these components. Clinical development and trials are anticipated within a few years in China with support from the Chinese government and in the United States in collaboration with the Sabin Vaccine Institute at Baylor University.
Dr. Burkhard and colleagues are applying a sophisticated new vaccine strategy in the quest to help smokers quit. They have engineered mechanically and chemically stable small peptide chains that self-assemble into larger particles of well-defined sizes and shapes. Such self-assembling polypeptide nanoparticles (SAPNs) have been used to induce a strong rodent immune system responses resulting in high levels of antibodies to malaria and severe acute respiratory syndrome. Dr. Burkhard’s team has developed SAPNs that couple with nicotine molecules and stimulate antibodies to prevent the drug from entering the brain. Although past approaches for developing a nicotine vaccine have not been very effective in producing anti-nicotine antibodies, this new vaccine appears highly efficient because it induces high antibody titers as well as highly specific and tightly binding antibodies. NIDA’s award will support the preclinical development of the vaccine; it is expected that the vaccine will be evaluated in people in a few years.
Modeled after NIDA’s Avant-Garde Award for Innovative HIV/AIDS Research, now in its fourth year, these grants for medications development are designed to support highly innovative research that has the potential to produce a major impact on the treatment of drug abuse. The goal of the program is to support projects that have identified approaches ready for translation into treatments.
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