Addiction is a highly complicated disease, one that has been very difficult to treat.
Kim Janda, a professor of chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute, is working on a vaccine that might help counteract addiction.
Dr. Kim D. Janda currently holds the rank of the Ely R. Callaway, Jr. Chaired Professor in the Departments of Chemistry, Immunology and Microbial Science at The Scripps Research Institute and is the Director of the Worm Institute of Research and Medicine (WIRM) at The Scripps Research Institute. He was born in Cleveland Ohio in 1957 wherein 1975 he matriculated to the University of South Florida and obtained a BS in Clinical Chemistry in 1980 and a doctoral degree from the University of Arizona (1984) in natural product total synthesis. Janda’s current research efforts straddle the interface of chemical biology. Janda is a Skaggs Scholar within the Skaggs Institute of Chemical Biology also at The Scripps Research Institute. He is a current member of the NIH study section Vaccines against Microbial Diseases. He also holds the positions of Associate Editor of Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry and PloS ONE.
There are over 1 billion smokers worldwide, and smoking is responsible for nearly 6 million deaths annually. The economic impact is also sobering: in the United States alone, smoking costs nearly $300 billion in medical expenses and lost productivity each year.
While many smokers wish to quit, currently available cessation aids do not help much. There are agonists or antagonists targeting brain receptors involved in nicotine dependence, yet, centrally, these medicines have a variety of side effects.
We are pursuing antibody-based strategies to aid smokers’ efforts to quit. We are working on a nicotine vaccine to stimulate the immune system to identify nicotine as a foreign invader, eliciting antibodies that stop nicotine from activating the brain’s reward system.
Nicotine vaccines have advanced to clinical trials; however, their failure has made some question the value of vaccines against drugs of abuse.
We have recently published a paper providing clues as to why other nicotine vaccines failed and how to remedy the failure. We have shown that the nicotine vaccine that advanced the furthest before failure was composed of enantioimpure antigens.
In other words, nicotine consists of mirror-image left- and right-handed molecules. The left hand, so to speak, is the most abundant form in tobacco products, so it is only logical to make a vaccine that interacts with only the left hand, rather than both hands.
The failed vaccine was to both hands, and we think that led to its ultimate demise. In our recent study, we created a vaccine to only left-handed molecules, and it elicited significant numbers of antibodies in animal models.
This new work demonstrates that the notion of vaccines to treat many drugs of abuse, from nicotine to cocaine and heroin, is still valid if one appreciates and follows guideposts that have been known for nearly a century.