Nordic scientists start trial on nicotine vaccine

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Nordic scientists have launched a trial on a vaccine designed to help smokers kick the world’s deadliest habit by depriving them of one of its chief pleasures, the firm that owns the vaccine said on Tuesday.

A woman smokes a cigarette in an undated file photo. REUTERS/File

Independent Pharmaceutica, a private company based at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute and founded in 1997 by Professor Torgny Svensson, joins a growing line-up of biotech companies seeking to develop an anti-nicotine shot.

Its researchers say the vaccine eliminates the quick high smokers relish by creating antibodies that bind to nicotine molecules, making them too bulky to enter the brain.

Once the high is gone, the argument goes, so is the main cause of addiction.

In the Phase II study on 400 people in three Nordic countries, researchers will measure the effect of the vaccine on those who have quit smoking and want to avoid relapse.

But they may use it in future to help active smokers quit, according to Independent Pharmaceutica.

Several other vaccines against nicotine dependence are under investigation, but Independent Pharmaceutica Chief Executive Lena Degling Wikingsson said her company hopes to produce a more potent product with fewer side effects than competitors.

“After this Phase II study, we want to have co-operation with a bigger pharmaceutical company to be able to take this further,” Wikingsson told Reuters on Tuesday.

“We are discussing (this) with the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies.”

Switzerland’s Cytos Biotechnology published results from a Phase II trial in 2005, showing 42 percent of patients who achieved high antibody levels at vaccination stayed smoke-free after 12 months, against 21 percent in the group given a placebo.

Bermuda-based private equity firm Celtic Pharma has said it will announce results from its Phase II trial on a nicotine vaccine this quarter, while U.S. company Nabi Pharmaceuticals is developing a similar product.

According to the World Health Organization, tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of death in the world, killing 5.4 million people every year, an increasing proportion of those in low-income countries.

Reporting by Sven Nordenstam; Editing by David Hulmes