Cocaine use and abuse remains a serious issue in the United States. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health has reported that about 1.9 million Americans were using cocaine in 2008, and a report by the Drug Abuse Warning Network revealed cocaine was involved in 482,188 of the visits to emergency departments for drug misuse. However, a team of researchers is currently investigating a long-acting enzyme that swiftly and safely metabolizes cocaine in the blood stream. The enzyme is being tested in animals and is being developed as a possible treatment for cocaine overdose.

The research is being presented at the 2015 American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS) Annual Meeting and Exposition, and was conducted by a team led by Dr. Chang-Guo Zhan, a professor, and Dr. Fang Zheng, an associate professor at the College of Pharmacy at the University of Kentucky. The team had previously tested CocH1, an enzyme capable of breaking down cocaine without producing harmful byproducts in the body. They’ve now moved on to creating a novel enzyme named E12-7Fc-M3, which they then tested in mice to examine its activity against cocaine. E12-7Fc-M3 has the ability to neutralize cocaine in the blood stream because of molecular modeling technology.

The enzyme not only showed a significantly improved efficiency neutralizing cocaine, but also had a prolonged biological half-life in mice of about 110 hours. CocH1-HAS (CocH1 formulated pharmaceutically) had a half-life of only about eight hours. A single dose of the new enzyme followed by a few smaller doses was shown to accelerate cocaine hydrolysis in mice for a minimum of 20 days. A single, smaller dose completely eliminated cocaine in mice for at least seven days.

“This next stage of our research is promising, showing that the enzyme has extended function in small animal models and potentially even longer in humans,” said Zhan, in a statement. “We envision that this therapy could eventually become a viable treatment option in emergency rooms for people who overdose on cocaine.”

Taking cocaine can lead to several serious health consequences, including cardiovascular problems like heart attacks and disturbances in heartbeat. The drug can also have neurological effects: strokes, seizures, headaches, and coma. At the present, there are no marketed treatments for individuals who overdose on cocaine.

Source: Zheng F, Zhan C, et al. R6236—Long-Acting Cocaine Hydrolase as Enzyme Therapy for Cocaine Addiction. Presented at the 2015 American Association of pharmaceutical Scientists Annual Meeting and Exposition. 2015.