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by Emily LaBeaume

NicVAX eliminates the pleasure that the smoking habit seeks.
Cigarette smoking is an epidemic. The contents of even the most purportedly natural cigarette lead to dangerous health conditions including heart, lung, and gastrointestinal disease. And yet, despite the plethora of information available about the consequences of smoking, people continue to take their cigarette breaks.

Friends, relatives, and even strangers might be audacious enough to remind a smoker that “smoking kills.” But their efforts are usually to no avail. Once a smoker is addicted it is extraordinarily difficult for them to quit the habit.

There was a time when cigarette manufacturers advertised their products with impunity. Ironically, a Camel advertisement from the 50s proudly claimed that, “Camels Agree with Your Throat.” But times, as they tend to do, have changed. Now smokers find their acceptance limited. There is even a movement to give movies depicting cigarette smoking an R rating.

It is no longer cool to smoke. It is cool to quit. And now for those who wish to do so, a new option will soon be available: NicVAX.

The production of NicVAX is Nabi Biopharmaceuticals’ ongoing attempt to create an effective nicotine vaccine. The company has been working on the vaccine since the mid 90s. And on November 2, 2009, they announced the initiation of the first of two Phase III trial. It is projected that the vaccine, if and after it is approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, may become available sometime in 2012.

According to Greg Fries, Manager, Investor Relations of Nabi Biopharmaceuticals, NicVAX has the edge on other smoking cessation aids. “This vaccine induces our immune systems to produce antibodies to nicotine. These antibodies recognize and bind to nicotine in the bloodstream, creating a molecule that is too large to cross the blood/brain barrier, preventing nicotine from reaching those receptors in the brain and triggering the pleasure sensation,” says Fries.

The advantage that the vaccine has over something like Nicorette gum is that it eliminates the pleasure that the habit seeks. While the patch or gum simply replace the nicotine buzz, NicVAX blocks the buzz altogether. Someone chewing the gum can still revert back to the cigarette and get the same nicotine high. A vaccinated patient still has every choice to revert back to the cigarette but they will feel none of the effects of doing so.

Another advantage of NicVAX is its convenience. As Fries points out, “you don’t have to remember to take a pill or lozenge, chew gum or place a patch on your arm.” The antibodies also remain in the body for longer periods of time, giving the cooperative patient a better chance of not relapsing.

The vaccine would be prescribed by the patient’s medical practitioner and administered in office. In all clinical trials the vaccine has been proven safe. Fries comments that “the safety profile of subjects injected with NicVAX was comparable to the subjects injected with a placebo.” As yet, there is no projected cost of the vaccine.

As products like the smokeless cigarette attest to, habit is a huge part of a smoker’s addiction. NicVAX, like other popular smoking cessation aids, cannot completely relieve its user of their simple desire to hold a cigarette to their mouth or take the chance to step outside for a break. But it makes an attempt at helping out there as well

“Behavioral counseling will be used in our Phase III clinical trials to help smokers break these habits. We also anticipate counseling to be part of the smoking cessation therapy process after NicVAX has been commercialized,” says Fries.

For those smokers who are serious about quitting and want the greatest chance of success, NicVAX may soon prove to be their most viable option.

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