A Vaccine For Smokers To Kick Habit?

Anti smoking vaccine possibility would create immune response to nicotine

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Could a shot finally help put the cigarettes down? A Boston biopharmaceutical company is exploring a new and unique method in the world of anti-smoking - a nicotine vaccine.

The startup, Selecta Biosciences, believes it could approach nicotine addiction as if it were a virus, creating an immune response in the body that would prevent the effects of nicotine from reaching the brain.

"Talk to your doctor about methods to quit smoking."

The vaccine, currently being tested in a Phase I trial on human subjects, uses synthetic nanoparticles to provoke an immune response in the body.

If successful, the immune system’s antibodies would bind to molecules of nicotine in the body, enlarging the nicotine molecules and causing the body to respond as if a virus were invading.

These enlarged nicotine molecules would be blocked from crossing the blood-brain barrier, a semi-permeable boundary protecting the brain, and the patient would not feel the usual effects of smoking.

This approach differs from traditional anti-smoking methods, such as nicotine gum or patches, which aim to lesson the craving for cigarettes by getting the addictive agent into the body through a different vehicle.

The vaccine, by contrast, isn't going after cravings for cigarettes themselves, but the reward from the nicotine. The chemical could still enter the body through the normal pathway, but would be internally blocked before ever reaching the brain.

This factor might make the vaccine difficult to prove, as it will likely need to cause some subjects to totally kick the habit (and not simply cut back) to show it can successfully block nicotine uptake.

The blocking of the reward also might make it a difficult sell to smokers, as it won't allow for the soothing of withdrawal symptoms through smoking.

Selecta expects results from the Phase I trial to be available in early July.

The clinical study aims to evaluate safety in human subjects and effectiveness of the vaccine by measuring nicotine-specific antibodies in the body. It will be placebo-controlled and examine both smoking and non-smoking subjects.

Selecta's development program for the vaccine was partially funded with a grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and MIT's Technology Review reports that the startup has raised near $80 million from venture capital firms and a Russian governmental biotech investment stock. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 10, 2012
Last Updated:
May 12, 2012