Florida company develops possible nicotine vaccine
WASHINGTON, Dec 17 (Reuters) - A Florida-based company said on Friday it had developed a vaccine that could help prevent people from becoming addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes.
The vaccine, called NicVAX, has worked in rats to greatly reduce the amount of nicotine reaching the brain. The company that makes it, Boca Raton-based Nabi , said it hopes to start testing the vaccine in humans by 2002.
"A nicotine vaccine may be useful for preventing and treating tobacco addiction because vaccinated persons would not be able get a 'kick' from the nicotine in tobacco smoke or chewing tobacco," Dr. Alan Leshner, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), one of the National Institutes of Health, said in a statement.
"Since they would find tobacco less rewarding, they would be less likely to continue using it."
NIDA helped fund the study and development of the vaccine.
"The vaccine consists of nicotine molecule conjugated to a protein," Tanina Frouge, director of investor relations for the company, said in a telephone interview.
"The next time the person smokes, the immune system produces antibodies to nicotine."
Frouge said the nicotine molecule is naturally too small to attract the attention of the immune system. "By linking it to a carrier protein, the immune system all of a sudden goes 'oh my god'," she said.
Writing in the journal "Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior", a team of researchers said they first vaccinated rats and then injected a single dose of nicotine into them. The amount of nicotine reaching the brain was reduced by 64 percent.
The rats also stayed calmer than they usually were when injected with nicotine.
The vaccine is a competitor to one being developed by Cantab Pharmaceuticals in Britain.
"If similar effects can be achieved in humans in clinical trials, we may be able to use the vaccine to prevent nicotine addiction or to help addicted tobacco users kick their nicotine habits," Dr. Robert Naso, senior vice president at Nabi, said in a statement.