New Vaccine May Help Smokers Quit


smokingMark Twain once said, “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.” Why is it so difficult for people to cease smoking permanently? The answer is nicotine, a drug found naturally in tobacco. In fact,┬ádrug experts claim that quitting cigarettes is far more challenging than refraining from heroin or cocaine because of tobacco’s highly addictive nature. However, according to the National Institutes of Health, a new vaccine may be able to combat nicotine’s pull on smokers.The National Institute on Drug Abuse, a division of the National Institutes of Health, gave Nabi BioPharmaceuticals a $10 million grant to take its anti-nicotine vaccine, NicVAX, to clinical trials. Officials want to confirm its effectiveness, monitor side effects, compare it to commonly used treatments and collect information that will allow the drug treatment to be used safely. Testing began two weeks ago, and must still be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The American Cancer Society reports that of 44 million smokers in the United States, 70 percent claim they want to quit. About 40 percent stop smoking each year, but only four to seven percent manage to give up smoking for good without outside intervention.

There are a few million reasons to quit: “Nicotine addiction causes nearly a half million deaths annually in the United States,” reports Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the National Institute of Heath. In addition, smoking costs more than $193 billion annually, with $97 billion in lost productivity and $96 billion in health care expenditures. Plus, smoking damages nearly every organ in the human body and is linked to at least 15 different cancers.

NicVAX is designed to stimulate the immune system to create antibodies that latch onto nicotine molecules in a smoker’s bloodstream, preventing nicotine from entering the brain. Trapped outside the brain, the too-large molecules of nicotine can’t trigger the addictive pleasure chemicals invoked by smoking tobacco. Another significant challenge facing smokers is relaps. Current relapse rates are as high as 90 percent, according to The National Institute on Drug Abuse. Drug makers are hoping that NicVAX will continue to bind to nicotine, and the reduced amount of addictive chemicals reaching the brain will inhibit the urge to light up.

The results of initial trials on 1,000 patients has been promising and caused few side effects. Nabi BioPharmaceuticals reports that 35 percent of those given the vaccine have been able to remain smoke-free compared with only 10 percent of patients who received a placebo.

{ Newscenter}