An extract of the kudzu vine being developed to treat alcoholism may also help treat cocaine addiction, researchers at Gilead Sciences Inc reported on Sunday.
Tests on rats showed the drug could stop them from giving themselves cocaine, the Gilead team reported in the journal Nature Medicine.
Gilead inherited the experimental drug last year when it acquired CV Therapeutics Inc. A spokesman for the company said it was working to try to bring the drug to market.
"There is no effective treatment for cocaine addiction despite extensive knowledge of the neurobiology of drug addiction," wrote Lina Yao, Ivan Diamond and colleagues.
Kudzu is an old remedy for alcoholism. The vine, native to Asia, has spread across much of the U.S. Southeast after being imported to control soil erosion.
CV Therapeutics made a synthetic extract called selective aldehyde dehydrogenase-2 inhibitor or ALDH2i. It carries the experimental name CVT-10216.
Tests on rats showed it could stop them from giving themselves cocaine. It can also prevent relapse after rats are weaned off cocaine.
They found how it works — by raising levels of a compound called tetrahydropapaveroline or THP. Cocaine cravings make levels of a brain chemical called dopamine soar and THP interferes with this.
"We propose that a safe, selective, reversible ALDH-2 inhibitor such as ALDH2i may have the potential to attenuate human cocaine addiction and prevent relapse," the researchers wrote.