Weizmann Scientist Gets U.S. Grant to Research Anti-drug Drug

The world-wide search for medication that may help to rehabilitate addicts hooked on heroin and other hard drugs has resulted in the award of a U.S. Department of Agriculture $109,000, three-year research grant to Professor David Lavie of the Weizmann Institute of Science and Arieh Abraham of the neighboring Volcani Institute of Agricultural Research.

For the past few years, Abraham and Prof. Lavie, who heads the Natural Products Group of the Institute’s Organic Chemistry Department, have been investigating the possibility of growing a certain species of poppy from which a chemical called the baine can be derived. This product is the source of naloxone and other anti-addiction drugs less harmful than methadone.

While methadone–which is already in use as a replacement drug for heroin addicts in many withdrawal clinics–produces unpleasant side effects and is itself addictive and therefore requires daily administration, naloxone and related drugs, currently in experimental use only, can be given in smaller doses and appear to produce much better results. However, these drugs are in short supply everywhere, since only very small amounts of chemical from which they are produced, the baine can be extracted from the usual opium-yielding poppy.

Prof. Lavie and Abraham hope to develop another kind of poppy capable of yielding thebaine alone, from which new, better forms and economically more feasible anti-drug medication and pain-relieving substances can be obtained. Prof. Lavie, who is the Israel Matz Professor of Organic Chemistry at the Weizmann Institute, was born in Alexandria, Egypt, came to Israel in 1934 and has been a member of the Institute’s scientific staff since 1940.

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