Finding Ways to Improve Biological Therapies for Treating Drug Addiction

Biologics Development

drug addiction pic

Abuse of prescription painkillers and other addictive drugs is a growing problem in the United States. Biological treatments for drug addiction have the potential to save countless lives. Image Source: Flickr user Eric Norris

Scientists have been debating the facets of drug addiction for a long time, but they all agree that it is a complex, multifaceted issue. Addiction can come from a vast number of sources, and no two addictions are the same. What’s more, while counselling, lifestyle changes, and social support all play important roles in achieving sobriety, they are rarely able to break the chemical and habitual components addiction on their own.

There are many different chemical ways of combating overdose, but researchers have identified three primary categories of biologic therapy for treating drug addiction and abuse: vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, and genetically modified enzymes. By preventing drugs from entering the central nervous system, these biologics can prevent and treat addiction.1  Early results are promising, but there are problems associated with each therapeutic category that new technology can begin to adapt, making it easier to address these challenges and develop better biologic treatments.

Vaccines: Taking the Pleasure Out of the High

Vaccines against recreational drugs (or prescription drugs used recreationally) work by triggering the immune system to generate antibodies. When the antibodies encounter the drug in the bloodstream, they bind to it and stop it from crossing the blood-brain barrier into the central nervous system, preventing it from having any neurological effects. By taking an immunotherapeutic approach, patients have the potential for sustained abstinence. By using an active vaccine or passive monoclonal antibodies, scientists are seeing encouraging results with fewer of the above treatment complications.2

Unfortunately, at the doses and frequency that many of these vaccines require, approximately 30% of patients produced relatively low levels of necessary antibodies throughout the first set of trials. In later studies, only 38% of patients attained the target concentration of antibodies, yet saw the lowest cocaine usage as compared to all previous trials.This is hardly a practical way to treat or prevent addiction since it requires patients to undergo frequent injections on a long-term basis, a commitment that could prove difficult to maintain.

To make addictive drug vaccination more feasible, some researchers are working to modify the drug-protein conjugates so that they stimulate stronger immune responses at lower concentrations. Modern software can help researchers sort through the reams of chemical data they must analyze in order to develop these longer-lasting vaccines and determine which modifications are most likely to be effective.

Monoclonal Antibodies: Preventing Drugs’ Access to the Central Nervous System

Monoclonal antibody therapies are an effective way to skip the middleman. By injecting the body with monoclonal antibodies, they bind directly to a drug in order to prevent it from entering the central nervous system without having to wait for the body to produce its own set of antibodies. In the case of anti-METH antibodies, it has been observed that the titer of antibodies via active immunization may be substantially less than the amount that could be passively infused.3 This treatment regimen is, however, not without complications. Most monoclonal antibody therapies are still in their infancy and with the aid of biologics discovery software, researchers may be able to identify:

  • Antibodies that are more specific to their targets, resulting in fewer adverse reactions.
  • Antibodies that bind their targets with greater affinity, creating more a potent treatment regimen.
  • Antibodies that have longer half-lives and aren’t as quickly evacuated by the body, reducing the required frequency of injections.

Another major concern about monoclonal antibodies is their high cost of production, supply levels and availability (with regards to locations and shipping). But by streamlining the research and development process, software can help biologics go from benchtop to bedside more quickly, resulting in significant cost savings that can make monoclonal antibody treatment a more feasible investment. Additionally, with software that can track the regulatory, quality and compliance components of production, local, small scale manufacturing is more viable. In the future, perhaps products won’t come from one of a handful of plants; instead, they may be produced in smaller quantities at multiple locations, closer to patients.

Genetically Modified Enzymes: Metabolizing Addictive Drugs

Over the years, scientists have been hijacking innate abilities of fungi and bacteria to serve the needs of humans; treating drug addiction will not be an exception to this theme. Scientists have demonstrated the effectiveness of bacterial esterases that catalyze the hydrolysis of cocaine. Unfortunately, the isolated bacterial esterases cannot just be haphazardly injected into people; they need to work in pairs and they can’t stay paired longer than twelve minutes at body temperature.4

Biologics discovery software can help researchers analyze the properties of these current enzymes and help elucidate possible longevity mechanisms. Additionally, this software could be used to identify the most promising candidate enzymes for drugs other than cocaine, broadening its use and applicability. Finally, streamlining the development process will allow new treatments to reach patients as quickly as possible.

Although researchers still have a long way to go in discovering everything about addiction, strides are being made in ways to treat it. By providing patients with the means to prevent relapse, like the aforementioned strategies, and by combining it with cutting edge software technology, lives can be saved.

The BIOVIA Biologics Solution is an innovative software suite that can help design, refine and manufacture revolutionary biologics to treat addiction. With key capabilities in planning, analysis and knowledge generation, it will save R&D dollars and streamline the transition from benchtop to bedside. Contact us today to find out how we can help your company contribute to the fight against substance abuse.

  1. “Advances in the Development of Biologics to Treat Drug Addictions and Overdose,” 2012,
  2. “Immunotherapy for drug abuse,” December 2011,
  3. “Monoclonal Antibodies as Pharmacokinetic Antagonists for the Treatment of (+)-Methamphetamine Addiction,” May 14, 2013,
  4. “Cocaine-Eating Enzyme Could Combat Addiction,” July 1, 2014,