Local Company Paves Way For Nicotine Vaccine

12:16 AM, Nov 25, 2009   |    comments
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ROCKVILLE, Md. (WUSA) -- A local company is on its way to reducing nicotine's power over people by actually making the drug bigger.

The unusual method comes in the form of a nicotine vaccine called NicVAX.  Its designed to introduce antibodies to a smoker's body that would be able to identify and capture the tiny chemical nicotine before it reaches the brain/blood barrier.  The combined antibody/nicotine molecule would be too large to actually pass the threshold where nicotine travels to reach the brain.

The vaccine is patented by Rockville-based Nabi Biopharmaceuticals, a small company of just 40 employees.  This month Nabi signed a licensing deal with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.  If the product is brought to the market, Nabi stands to make more $500 million.  The reward comes after nearly two decades of working on the concept.

"In terms of a compound I guess its as big as it comes," said CEO Dr. Raafat Fahim.  "In terms of the potential market, it's a blockbuster...somewhere between one and two billion dollars."

The vaccine recently entered its final rounds of clinical trials which is encouraging to smoking cessation experts across the country.  John Banzhaff is Executive Director of Action on Smoking and Health.  ASH is the oldest anti-smoking organization in the country.

"Given that all the other quitting methods have such abysmal success rates, anything above abysmal might be pretty damn good," he said. 

The vaccine is administered several times in doses so that the body can build up its antibody count.  The gradual method helps to minimize those withdrawal symptoms that so many people face when they're trying to quit smoking, said Fahim.

"As the antibody rises it continues to capture a little bit of the nicotine," he said.  "As the levels of the antibody go up, you capture a bit more and more.  So you never completely starve the brain of the nicotine at once."

While the vaccine may quelch the physiological aspects of nicotine addiction, it does not tackle the psychological aspects behind smoking.

"It is so difficult for people to quit smoking because it's a two part problem," said Banzhaff.  "The second part is that psychological habituation.  People are so used to smoking that cigarette after their morning coffee.  It's not effective unless it is used in combination with techniques to help people adjust to the routine of not smoking." 

Written by Brittany Morehouse
9NEWS NOW & wusa9.com

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