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Whiff of hope in nicotine vaccine

Los Angeles, May 15: The world’s 1.3 billion smokers soon might have a powerful new way to kick the habit ' a vaccine against nicotine.

Nearly 60 per cent of smokers who achieved high levels of antibodies against nicotine after receiving the vaccine stopped smoking completely for at least six months, according to a new study presented on Saturday at a meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Orlando, Florida.

About one-third of those who developed lower levels of antibodies stopped smoking, about the same fraction as those who received a placebo vaccine, according to Dr Jacques Cornuz of Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois in Lausanne, Switzerland, who led the study.

“The data clearly suggest that antibodies against nicotine are effective in helping people quit smoking,” Cornuz said. “This confirms the concept of vaccination (against smoking).”

Only about one-third of people who received the vaccine achieved the highest levels of antibodies.

Before the company can begin larger clinical trials, Cornuz said, it must find ways “to intensify the immunisation scheme” so that more people achieve the necessary antibody levels.

That might mean more injections, he said, or higher levels of the immunising agent in each dose. He estimated it would be as long as three years before new trials could begin.

Dr Roy Herbst of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston said he found the results intriguing. “The best way to help patients is to prevent them from getting cancer in the first place,” he said. “I find it very encouraging that there is something to treat the addiction (to tobacco).”

Smoking is thought to be the cause of 30 per cent of all cancer deaths, including 87 per cent of deaths from lung cancer. It also plays a role in cancers of the bladder, head, neck and pancreas.

But tobacco is very addictive ' more so than cocaine and heroin, according to some researchers. A variety of prevention tools are available to combat smoking, including nicotine patches, nicotine gums and drugs such as bupropion.

“But there are groups of patients who fail all these therapies,” Herbst said. Vaccines potentially offer a biological approach to breaking the addiction.

At least four companies are testing nicotine vaccines: Cytos Biotechnology of Zurich, Switzerland, whose vaccine Cornuz studied; Xenova Group of Berkshire, England; Nabi Biopharmaceuticals of Boca Raton, Fla.; and Prommune Inc. of Omaha, Neb.

Xenova and Nabi have conducted small clinical trials and also found promising results. The Cytos trial is the largest to date.

The only side effects of the vaccinations were redness and tenderness at the injection site and, occasionally, flu-like symptoms that resolved within 24 hours.

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