NIDA has announced the four winners of the first funding award specifically designed to support research to create a viable human treatment for cocaine or nicotine addiction.
There is the patch, the pills, the gum, and even going cold turkey, but for some nicotine addicts, nothing seems to stop the urge to reach for a cigarette. Instead of feeling dejected, people suffering from addictions can now pin their hopes for quitting on the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA.)
NIDA, a member of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), recently announced the four winners of a funding initiative for research that develops addiction treatments for human application. The initiative seeks to produce new addiction treatments by providing more government-based funding for the development of pharmaceutical treatments.
“Usually pharmaceutical companies support potential drugs,” said Jia Bei Wang, a pharmacology researcher at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and winner of the new award. “But I don’t think these companies are interested in addiction because it’s not profitable, so drugs for addiction are very much in need of government support.”
The new NIDA award will provide a combined total of $10 million to develop ways to counteract cocaine and nicotine dependency. The initiative hopes to create viable human treatments at the end of five years.
“I think that this is something very new,” said Wang. “As a researcher I have gone through a lot of grant applications, and this is the first of its kind that I have tried, that is not a mechanism for basic research but that is a drug development grant.”
According to Wang, the majority of federal funding for research is for basic research, projects that evaluate scientific questions without a definite sense of the outcome. The NIDA Avant-Garde Award for Innovative Medication Development is different because it is focused on pre-clinical and clinical research, projects that are outcome driven and based on extensive basic research.
“I think NIDA realizes there is a gap between basic research and clinical outcomes, and the research that bridges that gap is very important,” said Wang. “A lot of progress is made in the basic sciences, but on the clinical side we still don’t have any useful drugs [for cocaine addiction].”
Why is a clinical-only grant needed?
Every year the government spends billions on scientific research. According to the NIH Office of Budget, in fiscal year 2010 NIDA dedicated just $118,546 million to their pharmaceutical development department out of a total budget of $1.06 billion. According to Wang, by pledging an additional $10 million specifically for pharmaceutical development NIDA is finally stepping up to the plate to help find new addiction treatments.
“There isn’t a lot of interest from industry, but NIDA is the public health institute and they have a responsibility to develop treatments for these diseases for the people, and I think this grant came out of recognizing that need,” said Wang.
Ivan Montoya, deputy director of NIDA’s division of pharmacotherapies and medical consequences of drug abuse will oversee the Innovative Medication Development award. According to Montoya, this funding is part of a NIH push to support innovative research, while addressing the risk involved in providing government support for drug development projects.
“If [a research proposal] is very innovative it carries more risk, but it has to guarantee that results will be obtained after the five-year period,” said Montoya. “It is critical that the background science is successful, otherwise NIDA won’t give funds to someone that the committee doesn’t think has a good idea. It has to be supported by a good future for results.”
Creating the Innovative Medication Development award addresses the lack of interest from the pharmaceutical companies, but also satisfies NIDA’s need for confidence in the projects they fund. According to Montoya, to this end, the four winners of the award will be monitored for the duration of the grant, and required to provide progress updates about how they spend the money. NIDA hopes keeping tabs on the researchers will push the winning ideas toward the complete development of new therapies.
Potential abounds, but what about results?
According to William (Stephen) Brimijoin, a researcher in molecular pharmacology and experimental therapeutics at the Mayo Clinic, and a winner of the award, a government focus on human application is vital to making progress on addiction treatment.
According to Brimijoin, NIDA should be commended for selecting promising clinical research projects and cultivating them for human applications. “If some of these projects do result in a useful therapeutic agent we should all celebrate,” said Brimijoin. “Right now we just don’t know which projects will go all the way to real human applications.”