Systemic Safety of a Recombinant AAV8 Vector for Human Cocaine Hydrolase Gene Therapy: A Good Laboratory Practice Preclinical Study in Mice

Vicky Ping Chen, Yang Gao, Liyi Geng, Mike Steele, Nathan Jenks, Kah Whye Peng, Stephen Brimijoin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Cocaine addiction continues to impose major burdens on affected individuals and broader society but is highly resistant to medical treatment or psychotherapy. This study was undertaken with the goal of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permission for a first-in-human clinical trial of a gene therapy for treatment-seeking cocaine users to become and remain abstinent. The approach was based on intravenous administration of AAV8-hCocH, an adeno-associated viral vector encoding a modified plasma enzyme that metabolizes cocaine into harmless by-products. To assess systemic safety, we conducted "Good Laboratory Practice" (GLP) studies in cocaine-experienced and cocaine-naive mice at doses of 5E12 and 5E13 vector genomes/kg. Results showed total lack of viral vector-related adverse effects in all tests performed. Instead, mice given one injection of AAV8-hCocH and regular daily injections of cocaine had far less tissue pathology than cocaine-injected mice with no vector treatment. Biodistribution analysis showed the vector located almost exclusively in the liver. These results indicate that a liver-directed AAV8-hCocH gene transfer at reasonable dosage is safe, well tolerated, and effective. Thus, gene transfer therapy emerges as a radically new approach to treat compulsive cocaine abuse. In fact, based on these positive findings, the FDA recently accepted our latest request for investigational new drug application (IND 18579).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)70-79
Number of pages10
JournalHuman gene therapy
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 2020



  • cocaine abuse
  • cocaine hydrolase
  • IND-enabling study
  • mutated butyrylcholinesterase
  • viral vector

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics

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