A new drug has successfully protected rats at Scripps Research Institute from the effects of methamphetamine. While there is still plenty of testing to be done before the drug is ready for human consumption, If it is proven effective, it could revolutionise the treatment of meth addiction.
Currently meth addiction effects an estimated 25 million people worldwide. Hardest hit are countries like the US, Australia and Canada. The scale of the problem is truly staggering. In the US alone, there are an estimated 400,000 users.
“This is an early-stage study, but its results are comparable to those for other drug vaccines that have then gone to clinical trials,” said Michael A. Taffe, an associate professor in TSRI’s addiction science group.
It is especially important to create a vaccine for meth because of the nature of the drug. Meth is cheap to make and producers can get all the ingredients over the counter. This keeps prices down for users and allows suppliers to make the drug in large batches quickly. Meth is also more addictive than most other drugs including cocaine and heroin. This combination of low price and easy access has made meth a very difficult drug to fight.
The new vaccine would make the struggle against meth much easier for addicts who are trying to quit. Rather than blocking receptors in the brain, this vaccine uses the body’s own defence system against the drug. The vaccine helps create antibodies that target meth so when the drug is used, the body destroys it before it ever reaches the brain. This means addicts will not be able to get high using meth which takes away the physical reward of using. It also blocks several side effects of meth including increased physical activity and the loss of the ability to regulate body temperature.
“I think that this vaccine has all the right features to allow it to move forward in development,” said Kim Janda, the Ely R. Callaway, Jr. Professor of Chemistry and member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at TSRI. “It certainly works better than the other active vaccines for meth that have been reported so far.”
If the drug makes it through clinical trials, it could be used everywhere from treatment centres to prisons. The drug is currently administered in 4 doses and protects people from the effects of meth for up to 12 weeks but scientists are confident they can make it last even longer. More importantly, the vaccine is cheap to produce which is important as many meth addicts cannot afford to pay for expensive treatments.