Nabi Biopharmaceuticals have recently developed a vaccine to help prevent nicotine addiction and soon hope to bring it to market. They have teamed up with GlaxoSmithKline(GSK) in an effort to get the word out about their product to primary care physicians in hopes to reach smokers desperate to quit, but have not found the strength to do so with the current available treatments.
The vaccine works by tricking the immune system to recognize nicotine as an invader, thereby attaching antibodies to it. This makes the bound nicotine molecule too large to cross the blood brain barrier and the nicotine then does not get to the brain to activate the reward centers. This brings up many possibilities of treatment, including cocaine addiction and others, however it also begs the question of the possible autoimmune disease repercussions resulting from this type of treatment. Nicotine is present in many common foods, including tomatoes, peppers, teas, eggplant, cauliflower, and potatoes, among other less common foods as well.
Dr. Nora D. Volkow, the director for the National Institute on Drug Abuse which is a division of the National Institutes of Health, believes this to be a great breakthrough in the treatment of nicotine addiction. “Early (emphasis added) studies on (the nicotine vaccine), the Nicotine Conjugate … show it to be safe and capable of generating antibodies that block nicotine's entry into the brain.” The vaccine also, “induced the production of long-lasting antibodies that helped prevent smoking relapse for up to 2 months in about a quarter of the study participants.” The drug is currently in Phase III trials and is set to complete these in early 2012.
Volkow also says this is research that has, “the potential to profoundly impact the public's health.” This impact is bound to be positive, at least in the short term. Hopefully the NIH, GSK and Nabi have performed enough long terms studies to know whether or not this vaccine really is safe.