Next-gen addiction vaccines offer a tough challenge to biotechs

The Wall Street Journal has taken an in-depth look at the trials and tribulations faced by a group of biotech companies determined to develop a string of vaccines to treat various addictions. Starting with a look at the science involved in tricking the immune system to hunt down and eliminate drug molecules, the Journal outlines how antibodies have moved into the forefront of the science of conjugate vaccines.

"The antibody is like a sponge," Scripps' Kim Janda tells the business newspaper. "The drug comes in and it's soaked up, and you try to soak up as much as you can before it crosses the blood-brain barrier."

But while the science may seem relatively simple, the field has been littered with trial failures. Sweden's Independent Pharmaceutica, Switzerland's Cytos and Celtic Pharma Management based in Bermuda have all tried and failed, though some have a Plan B in the works. That leaves Nabi Biopharmaceuticals in the lead with a pair of late-stage studies of its nicotine vaccine under way. Researchers are adding a dose of NicVAX in Phase III in the hopes that they will register a significantly better result than Chantix, which is currently on the market. And investigators at Weill Cornell Medical College say they are seeing encouraging animal data for an early-stage cocaine vaccine.

"We give intravenous dosages of cocaine that's in excess of what humans take and it's like water to the mice" that have received the vaccine, says lead investigator Ronald Crystal.

- here's the article from the Wall Street Journal