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Stop-Smoking Vaccine in the Works

Researchers move closer to a shot for kicking nicotine addiction

MONDAY, Oct. 12 (HealthDay News) -- The National Institute on Drug Abuse has given a $10 million grant to a Maryland company to help it in the final phases of research regarding a possible anti-nicotine vaccine.

Nabi Biopharmaceuticals of Rockville will launch a phase III study of a potential vaccine called NicVAX. The study, which could be the last step of research if the vaccine works, represents the most advanced investigation of a smoking-cessation vaccine.

The vaccine is designed to help people quit smoking and not relapse. According to a statement by institute director Dr. Nora D. Volkow, the vaccine has received "fast track" designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and has survived a successful "proof-of-concept" study.

There's no guarantee that the study will prove that the vaccine works, nor is it clear whether it will get federal approval if it does. But researchers are hopeful.

The vaccine works by making the immune system kick into action when it detects nicotine. The idea is that antibodies will bond to nicotine molecules and prevent them from entering the brain, where they give smokers the high that they crave.

Study results are preliminary so far, but they suggest that smokers who develop high levels of the antibodies in their bodies are most likely to quit for good. Researchers reported few side effects.

They expect that the vaccine will be effective for six to 12 months after it is given.

In the United States, tobacco use is linked to 400,000 deaths a year, according to background information.

More information

For more statistics about smoking, visit the American Heart Association.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: National Institute on Drug Abuse, news release, Sept. 29, 2009

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