A Magic Bullet in Cocaine Wars? 

A Magic Bullet in Cocaine Wars? 
Posted by FoM on March 05, 2000 at 11:39:11 PT
By Guy Gugliotta, Washington Post
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Donald W. Landry took up the cocaine challenge at the height of the crack epidemic, after hearing President Bush ask in a speech whether science might be able to devise a vaccine that could render addictive drugs harmless. A decade later, Landry may have done just that.
Using methods seldom applied in drug-abuse research, he built a "catalytic antibody" that eats cocaine in a lab rat's bloodstream the way that Pac-Man gobbles bad guys in a computer maze. This spring, MedImmune Inc., a Gaithersburg, Md., biotech company, will join forces with Landry to refine his technique to make an antibody strong enough to treat cocaine abuse in humans. If Landry, a professor at the Columbia University medical college in New York, has not found the "magic bullet" in the war on drugs, he certainly appears to be as close as anyone."If he is successful," said Frank Vocci, director of treatment research and development at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "he would actually have an antibody able to reduce cocaine to an inactive substance as fast as people put it into their bodies." Success is by no means assured. While Landry "has shown conceptually that it can work," the antibody does not yet function rapidly or efficiently enough to be used in humans, noted Scott Koenig, MedImmune's senior vice president for research. Koenig said MedImmune, by engineering and testing thousands of variants of Landry's antibody as well as new candidates, expects to show whether the technique can be commercially viable. "We have no way of knowing," Koenig said. "But we'll have an answer in 2000."Once proven, however, the treatment would still require years of clinical evaluation before it could reach the market, he cautioned. Nonetheless, the potential is enormous. The President's Office of National Drug Control Policy, which has given Landry $2.8 million in research grants since 1994, estimates that there are 5.2 million users of cocaine and its derivatives in the United States and 3.3 million addicts. Americans spend an estimated $39 billion a year on cocaine, and the drug's "social cost," in law enforcement, prisons, rehabilitation, lost wages, medical care and family violence, is another $66 billion, the drug-policy office estimates. Landry's and MedImmune's goal is to create an antibody that will mop up any cocaine in a person's bloodstream for about a month. Add boosters, so that the person goes four or five months without a reinforcing high, and the craving goes away. "And when that happens, rates of abstinence go way up," Landry said, citing studies that he said showed that heroin treatment with both methadone and counseling produced abstinence rates of 60 percent to 80 percent, compared with 10 percent to 30 percent for programs relying on counseling alone. Still, he cautioned, while the antibody effectively "vaccinates" a person against cocaine for a month, it is not a "vaccine," which would cause the body to become permanently immune. Also, "a vaccine is different for something you want than for something you don't want," said Alan I. Leshner, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "People want cocaine" and could always wait for the vaccine to wear off. And, said Landry, "everything we have accomplished so far is merely proof of principle."Indeed, Landry and MedImmune agree that his best-performing antibody to date binds to individual molecules much too sluggishly and does not change targets fast enough. And the antibody probably needs to be "humanized," so that a body will not attack it by making an antibody for the antibody.MedImmune will try to do all this by testing many sample antibodies - both Landry's and others made by MedImmune - and "tweaking" them to enhance performance."I don't want to say it's a no-brainer," Koenig said. "It's challenging, but we have the experience to give it a good shot. If it can be done, we'll do it." Published: March 5, 2000 2000 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc. Related Article:Can an Antibody Gobble Up Cocaine Cravings? Search - Cocaine Articles: 
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