Brazilian scientists develop vaccine that fights addiction

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Scientists in Brazil, the world’s second-largest consumer of cocaine, have unveiled an innovative treatment for cocaine and crack addiction – a vaccine. Known as “Calixcoca,” this experimental vaccine, exhibiting promising results in animal trials, stimulates an immune response that hinders cocaine and crack from affecting the brain. This interference is anticipated to aid users in breaking the cycle of addiction, essentially preventing addicts from experiencing the drug’s intoxicating effects.

If granted regulatory approval, this would mark the first instance of a vaccine being used to address cocaine addiction, according to psychiatrist Frederico Garcia, the head of the team behind the treatment at the Federal University of Minas Gerais. The vaccine functions by provoking the immune system to generate antibodies that attach to cocaine molecules in the bloodstream. This process renders the molecules too large to cross into the brain’s reward centre, where cocaine typically induces heightened levels of pleasure-triggering dopamine.

Recently, the project received a prestigious award, the top prize of 500,000 euros ($530,000), at the Euro Health Innovation awards for Latin American medicine, sponsored by the pharmaceutical firm Eurofarma.

While similar research has been conducted in the United States, the leading consumer of cocaine globally, those efforts stalled due to inadequate results in clinical trials, among other reasons.

Calixcoca has demonstrated effectiveness in animal testing by generating substantial levels of antibodies against cocaine with minimal side effects. Furthermore, researchers observed that the vaccine shielded rat foetuses from the effects of cocaine, suggesting potential use in safeguarding unborn babies of pregnant addicts.

The vaccine is now undergoing for the final phase of trials: human testing. Provided the tests garner the intended results, Calixcoca will be a groundbreaking tool in addiction treatment, complementing current methodologies such as psychological counselling, social support, and rehabilitation. The vaccine is created using lab-designed chemical compounds, ensuring cost-effectiveness in production and obviating the need for cold storage.

The team behind the vaccine stressed that this treatment won’t be a universal solution and is primarily intended for recovering addicts who have discontinued cocaine use and seek to maintain abstinence. The specific target group will be determined based on clinical trial outcomes.

Studies show that one in four regular cocaine users becomes addicted, and only one in four addicts manages to quit after five years of treatment.

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