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Quick quit: These tubes contain the nanoparticles Selecta uses in its vaccine.

The nicotine vaccine does not eliminate the craving for nicotine—instead, it diminishes the effect from smoking the cigarette. As a result, smokers who are given the vaccine will find that they can’t alleviate their nicotine withdrawal symptoms by smoking. Selecta’s vice president, Peter Keller, acknowledges that smoking several cigarettes in a row could overwhelm the immune system to render partial pleasure, since enough free-flowing nicotine molecules would still pass through uninhibited to the brain.

Previous efforts to make a smoking vaccine were based more on the conventional approach of delivering nicotine in a less harmful way, but they weren’t successful at getting people to stop smoking.

Existing drugs have severe side effects and are largely ineffective at getting people to quit. Chantix, a type of antipsychotic drug that blocks nicotine from binding with receptors once nicotine has entered the brain, has a smoking cessation success rate below 25 percent, but it has made over $700 million in worldwide sales per year since its release in 2007.

A nicotine vaccine should also work for several years. Nicotine drugs like Chantix or Zyban, in contrast, stop working once the treatment ends, and such drugs can’t be used longer than several months because of their severe side effects.

Selecta has raised almost $80 million from venture capital firms Polaris, OrbiMed, and Flagship Venture Partners, as well as from the Russian government through its $10 billion biotech investment fund Rusnano. Keller says that preliminary Phase I results could come as early as July, at which point that trial will either expand, if the results are inconclusive, or continue to Phase II if the nicotine-binding nanoparticle is well-tolerated in humans.

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Credits: Technology Review, Conor Myhrvold

Tagged: Biomedicine

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