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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Cocaine vaccine trials progress
Cocaine pile
Cocaine produces a euphoric "high"
Fresh testing of a vaccine which may reduce the "high" experienced by cocaine users has been launched in the US.

Earlier tests suggested that the vaccine, called TA-CD, can reduce the euphoric effects of the drug in the majority of patients.

Cocaine is one of the most widely abused drugs in the US and UK.

It has been linked to medical complications such as heart and breathing problems, and while not as addictive as drugs such as heroin, withdrawal is associated with strong cravings, depression and anxiety.

There is a real need for an effective therapy to help habitual cocaine users to overcome their problems of drug abuse and addiction

David Oxlade, CEO, Xenova
At present there are no reliable therapies to help doctors wean users off the drug, and even in drug treatment programmes, approximately half of all patients go back to taking the drug.

The drug has its effects on the brain because its molecules are small enough to slip past the "blood-brain barrier" - a filter which stops potentially toxic substances reaching the delicate tissues of the brain.

No fun

The vaccine aims to work by helping the body produce antibodies which bind to the cocaine molecules, stopping them being taken up by the brain.

This means that, even if a vaccinated patient takes cocaine, the pleasure associated with the drug will be greatly diminished.

Safety trials of the vaccine have already been successfully completed, and tests to work out its effectiveness have also yielded positive results.

Four doses of the vaccine was found, over a 12 week period, to lessen the euphoric effects of the drug in five out of six patients.

Antibodies were detected in the blood for months after the injections.

David Oxlade, the chief executive of Xenova, the pharmaceutical firm developing the drug, said: "TA-CD has shown considerable promise to date.

"There is a real need for an effective therapy to help habitual cocaine users to overcome their problems of drug abuse and addiction."

Aidan Gray, a national coordinator for Coca, a support group on cocaine and crack cocaine issues, told BBC News Online that a successful vaccine could be a useful tool.

He said: "If it does everything they say it can do, it will be very useful.

"The only questions are how long the effect is going to last, and how much it is going to cost.

"Will patients need to be given this vaccine periodically for the rest of their lives?"

The firm is also developing a vaccine using similar principles to combat nicotine addiction.

This is an earlier testing stage - although anti-smoking campaigners say it could be of significant help to those battling to quit the habit.

See also:

14 Sep 99 | Medical notes
10 Sep 01 | Health
Nicotine vaccine tests launched
30 May 01 | Health
'One dose danger' of cocaine
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