Practically everyone who smokes tells you they would like to quit. In fact, many have tried, probably several times over. But kicking the nicotine habit is difficult. The pharmaceutical industry has tried to help, but the fact is, most of the products available today have had limited success and several have strong side effects.
Maybe the answer to smokers’ prayers lies in a vaccine, which would immunize the smoker against nicotine. Antibodies induced by the vaccine would bind nicotine in the blood, thus preventing it from reaching the nicotine receptors in the brain and breaking the cycle of nicotine addiction
One of the most promising vaccines looks to be Nicvax, which is being developed by Nabi Biopharmaceuticals (Nasdaq:NABI) of Rockville, Md. Currently in Phase III trials, Nicvax is designed to help people quit smoking as well as prevent relapses of a treated smoker, thus leading to long-term abstinence. Nabi has a worldwide option and license agreement on the vaccine with GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK).
Several other vaccines also are in the pipeline but none are as far along in the development phase as Nicvax. Among them is Nic-002 (Phase II), by Swiss-based Cytos Biotechnology and its partner Novartis (NYSE:NVS).
For the company that can develop an effective and enduring smoking cessation method, the rewards are there for the taking. About 1.1 billion people smoke worldwide. Smoking is more prevalent in developing countries and is continuing to increase. There is some good news in North America, where the prevalence of smoking in North America is on the decline. Still, some 25% of all Americans continue to puff away.
Just think about what an effective smoking cessation product could do to cut health costs. After all, tobacco smoking is responsible for 1 of every 5 deaths and is the most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. Children smoke 1.1 billion packs of cigarettes yearly, racking up a future health care bill of more than $200 billion.
So the commercial opportunity is sizeable. One forecaster says the market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 11%, reaching approximately $3.8 billion by 2018. Of that total, nicotine vaccines are expected to account for $2.1 billion in sales.
The majority of products now available use Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), making it easier to abstain from tobacco by delivering nicotine via skin patches, inhalants, gum, lozenges and nasal sprays. A number of companies provide these products, but the leader is GlaxoSmithKline. Unfortunately, one study found that 93% of over-the-counter NRT users relapse and return to smoking within six months.
Glaxo also makes one of the two non-nicotine prescription medicines approved for smoking cessation, Zyban. The other is Pfizer’s (NYSE:PFE) Chantix. In July 2009, FDA required both products to carry new safety information in a boxed warning on their labeling for health care professionals citing serious risks for users taking these drugs. These risks include changes in behavior, depressed mood, hostility, and suicidal thoughts or actions.
In fact, Pfizer faces a plethora of lawsuits on the behalf of Chantix users that have committed suicide or attempted it.