A local scientist has received a $10.8 million grant to pursue research that may result in a new class of medicine to treat cocaine and nicotine addiction.

The researcher, Nicholas Cosford, will be working with a team of scientists at two San Diego academic centers – the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) and UC San Diego. The team will also collaborate with Camino Pharma, a San Diego biotech co-founded by Cosford, to carry out toxicity tests and other lab work.

The three-year grant will be used to pursue early-stage research — the kind of experiments done in animals and in test tubes — before the drug can be tested in humans.

Cosford said experimental evidence has linked cocaine and nicotine-seeking and relapse behavior with an increase in glutamate transmission in the brain. The team’s objective is to reduce glutamate transmission with a new class of drugs. If the team can accomplish this, it would be a boon for those treating substance abuse disorders.

“Cocaine addiction remains a major public health problem without any FDA-approved medications for treatment,” said Dr. Robert Anthenelli, professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego and collaborator for the study. “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.”

If the findings from early stage research are promising, the drug will go on to human trials. The intellectual property for the research belongs to SBP, meaning SBP would receive royalty payments on its sales if a new medicine emerged from the research.

The grant was awarded to Cosford by the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health.