Nabi Tries to Help Smokers Break the Habit

“Quitting smoking” is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions, right up there with “losing weight” and “exercising more.” Despite the promises, the patches and nicotine gum, only a small percentage manages to shake the addiction. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that out of the 45 million smokers in the U.S., only 5 percent of those who try to quit remain smoke-free after 12 months.

Quitting is so difficult in part because nicotine is an extremely small molecule that can cross the blood-brain barrier, producing the positive sensations that can lead to addiction. Nabi Biopharmaceuticals seeks to disrupt this relaxation response with NicVax, its proprietary vaccine to treat nicotine addiction. The Rockville, Maryland-based company specializes in the development of vaccines for smoking cessation and gram-positive bacterial infections.

NicVax links nicotine molecules to a larger protein. When injected, they cause the immune system to recognize the nicotine as a foreign molecule and produce antibodies that prevent it from crossing the blood-brain barrier. As a result, the brain does not produce the positive feelings associated with smoking. Because the body keeps producing antibodies for some time after treatment is stopped, NicVax may also have the potential to fight relapse.

Nabi’s other key product is PentaStaph to prevent Stapylococcus aureus bacterial infections, including those caused by antibiotic-resistant strains of S. aureus. S. aureus is associated with community- and hospital-acquired infections such as MRSA. In August, PentaStaph was sold to GlaxoSmithKline.

Related video: Rafaat Fahim, President and CEO of Nabi Pharmaceuticals, talks to William Dawson of LifeTech Capital at the 2010 OneMedForum.

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