A researcher at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute will lead a $10.8 million effort to develop a new class of drugs for treating cocaine and nicotine addiction.

Under a grant announced Tuesday from the National Institutes of Health, Nicholas Cosford, Ph.D., will lead a multidisciplinary team of scientists at SBP, UC San Diego, and Camino Pharma LLC in the drug discovery effort.

“We will be working on a novel class of drugs that target the metabotropic glutamate receptor 2,” said Cosford. “Experimental evidence has linked cocaine and nicotine-seeking and relapse behavior with increases in glutamate neurotransmission in the brain. Our objective is to reduce glutamate neurotransmission with drugs called positive allosteric modulators that interact with specific glutamate receptors.”

The grant will allow Cosford’s team to move forward with studies of the effectiveness of their lead compound, SBP-0069330, which has been selected based on favorable drug-like properties.

“We are enthusiastic about the prospects of developing this novel drug to treat people who suffer from substance use disorders,” said Robert Anthenelli, professor of Psychiatry at UC San Diego and a collaborator for the study.

“Cocaine addiction remains a major public health problem without any FDA-approved medications for treatment,” he said. “Cigarette smoking, the largest preventable cause of morbidity and mortality among adults worldwide, has several FDA-approved medications to reduce nicotine cravings and withdrawal, but there is a need for more effective options.”

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.