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Asthma Drug Tested as Alcoholism Treatment

Whiskey in glasses

(Michal Jarmoluk, Pixabay)

2 February 2017. Results from a small-scale clinical trial show an established drug to treat asthma and other inflammatory conditions has promise as a treatment for alcohol dependence. Findings from the study, by a team from University of California in Los Angeles, appeared on 16 January in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology (paid subscription required).

The researchers, led by UCLA psychologist Lara Ray, tested the drug ibudilast, developed in the 1980s to treat asthma and other inflammatory disorders, and used largely in Japan and Korea since 1989. The pharmaceutical company MediciNova in La Jolla, California, licensed ibudilast and is developing the drug to treat the neuroinflammatory diseases multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, as well as drug dependence. MediciNova provided the ibudilast dispensed in the study.

Ibudilast works by blocking immune-system proteins providing the rewards associated with drug and alcohol abuse, and was shown in preclinical tests with lab rats to reduce alcohol consumption by half. The authors say this was the first human trial of the drug for alcohol dependence, which recruited 24 individuals with the disorder, including consumption of at least 48 drinks in a 30-day period before beginning the study.

Ray, director of UCLA’s Addictions Lab, and colleagues tested the drug as a treatment candidate for individuals while they are drinking and looked at the interaction of alcohol and ibudilast. The researchers were particularly interested in ibudilast’s effectiveness in stressful situations, similar to those faced by people with a dependence on drugs and alcohol.

Participants in the clinical trial were enrolled as overnight residents at UCLA Clinical and Translational Research Center, where half the group was randomly assigned to receive smaller then larger daily doses of ibudilast or a placebo for 6 days. After a 14-day break, the groups switched with the original placebo group receiving ibudilast and the original test-drug recipients getting the placebo, again for 6 days.

After each part of the two-stage study, participants were given an intravenous dose of alcohol similar to 4 drinks. In addition, participants were put in stressful situations, where they were asked to hold and smell a glass of their favorite drink, but were stopped from drinking it. The results show participants taking ibudilast had lower cravings for alcohol, indicated by less “liking” and “wanting” of alcohol, than those taking the placebo. In addition, individuals taking the test drug reported being in a better mood than placebo recipients, including among participants showing symptoms of depression.

“We found that ibudilast is safe and well-tolerated,” says Ray in a university statement. “This medication can be safely administered, including when people are drinking alcohol.” Reported side effects included mild nausea and abdominal pain, but none of the participants dropped out of the study.

The following video tells more about the study.

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