10 Aug New Drug Shows Promise in Helping People Quit Smoking
A new drug that prevents smokers from getting the “buzz” from cigarettes showed promise in preliminary testing and may someday offer a new way to kick the dangerous habit. In the study, more than twice as many people given five of the shots stopped smoking than those given fewer shots or placebo—about 15 percent versus 6 percent after one year.
The Associated Press reports that the results do not prove that the drug works but encouraged some experts. Dr. Frank Vocci, director of medications development at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said it “clearly shows promise” and merits a definitive study. The NIDA has given $8 million for the research so far.
The drug is called NicVAX and is a vaccine designed to “immunize” smokers against the nicotine rush that fuels their addiction. The treatment keeps nicotine from reaching the brain, taking the “buzz” out of smoking and hopefully making it easier to give up. Some nicotine still gets in, possibly easing withdrawal, which is the main reason people trying to quit relapse.
This approach—attacking dependency in the brain—is different than just replacing nicotine, as the gum, lozenges, patches, and nasal sprays do.
The study involved 301 longtime smokers in Minneapolis, Omaha, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, New York City and Madison, Wisconsin. Participants were given four or five shots within six months, at one of two doses, or placebo shots. Neither they nor their doctors knew who got what.
Initial shots “prime” the immune system. Later doses make it produce antibodies, which latch onto nicotine in the bloodstream and keep it from crossing the blood-brain barrier and maintaining the addiction.
One year into the study (six months after volunteers received the last shot) 14 percent taking the lower dose and 16 percent taking the higher dose of five shots had quit. Only 6 percent of those given four shots or the fake vaccine had quit.
“These quit rates are comparable to what’s seen in other studies for things that are considered to work,” said the lead researcher, Dr. Stephen Rennard of the University of Nebraska.
“These are impressive preliminary data,” said Dr. Sidney C. Smith Jr., a cardiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and past heart association president. Getting people to quit smoking “may well be at the top of the list” for improving public health, said Smith. An estimated 1.3 billion people worldwide smoke, and it’s a leading cause of cancer and heart disease.
However, some doctors were not as impressed. “I’m a little underwhelmed,” said Dr. Timothy Gardner, a heart association spokesman and cardiologist at Christiana Care Health System in Newark. He “would think we could expect better” with such a novel approach, and he found it hard to understand why five shots worked and four did not.
The Food and Drug Administration has granted the vaccine fast-track status, meaning it will get prompt review.
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