Sunday, September 26, 2010

NIDA’s Avant-Garde Award Winners

Antibodies, Chinese herbs, gene therapy, and cannabinoids.

Scientists with four novel approaches to the development of new medicines for addiction were recipients of the first-ever Avant-Garde Awards for Innovative Medication Development Research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. (NIDA).

“Science has clearly shown that drug addiction results from profound disruptions in brain structure and function, presenting numerous potential targets for medications development—yet few medications have come to fruition,” said NIDA director Nora D. Volkow. “The pharmaceutical industry has been reluctant to invest in medications development for addiction due to stigma and perceived financial disincentives,” she added. “These studies could lay the foundation to encourage greater pharmaceutical industry involvement.”

The winning research is comprised of three distinct attacks on cocaine addiction, and one new approach to nicotine addiction.  The winners will receive $500,000 per year for five years to support ongoing research:

Project: Cocaine hydrolase gene therapy for cocaine abuse.

Dr. William Brimijoin at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, is working on a gene therapy for cocaine relapse. According to a NIDA news release, the strategy is to use gene transfer technology “to produce high and sustained levels of a modified version of the enzyme butyrylcholinesterase (BchE), which efficiently degrades cocaine in the bloodstream before it reaches the brain.”

Project: Development of I-THP as new medication for drug addiction.

This avenue of investigation takes a different tack, centering on human safety and efficacy studies of a compound called I-tetrahydropalmatine (I-THP), originally discovered in extracts of Chinese herbs, and shown to reduce cocaine reward and self-administration in animal studies. The awardee is Dr. Jia Bei Wang of the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

Project: A human antibody as an immunotherapy for cocaine abuse.

The work of Dr. Andrew Norman at the University of Cincinnati is in line with recent work toward developing a cocaine vaccine. Dr. Norman is in the process of developing a human monoclonal antibody against cocaine. It is known as h2E2. A similar antibody has been shown to reduce cocaine effects in rats. The compound, when injected, is designed to prevent cocaine in the blood stream from entering the brain.

Project: Optimization and preclinical development of FAAH inhibitors for smoking cessation.

Dr. Daniele Piomelli and his team of researchers at the University of California, Irvine, are hoping to develop a medication for smoking cessation that targets the brain’s endogenous cannabinoid system. The research is intended to “identify and optimize compounds that inhibit an enzyme called fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), which degrades the endocannabinoid anandamide.” Blocking FAAH reduces the self-administration of nicotine in animal models.

For background information on the NIDA Avant-Garde Awards, go HERE.

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