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Stimulus money will fund nicotine vaccine trial

September 30, 2009 | 10:21 am

A $10-million grant to Nabi Pharmaceuticals of Rockville, Md., from the National Institute on Drug Abuse will fund a Phase 3 clinical trial of a new vaccine designed to prevent relapses among smokers -- the final step before the vaccine can be approved for general use. It is the first large trial of an anti-smoking vaccine.

The vaccine, called NicVax, stimulates the production of antibodies that bind to nicotine in the


bloodstream. The bound nicotine molecules are too large to enter the brain, thereby subverting the

rewarding effects of the drug. Preliminary studies have shown that smokers who achieved the highest level of nicotine antibodies had higher rates of quitting smoking and longer durations of abstinence than those given placebos. The vaccine was also well tolerated, with few side effects.

Some evidence suggests that the antibodies may persist for only six to 12 months, but that may be long enough to allow smokers to get through the extremely difficult first months of withdrawal.

Smoking is the largest cause of preventable deaths in the United States, with more than 400,000 deaths directly linked to it each year.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

Photo credit: Burhan Ozbilici / Associated Press