Article and Video CATEGORIES

Cancer Journey

Search By

Dr. Jack West is a medical oncologist and thoracic oncology specialist who is the Founder and previously served as President & CEO, currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Global Resource for Advancing Cancer Education (GRACE)


Combating Nicotine Addiction with a Vaccine
Howard (Jack) West, MD

Imagine that you're a longtime smoker who is well aware of the health risks of smoking, not only in terms of lung cancer but also other cancers, heart disease, and other illnesses. You want to quit smoking, and perhaps you've tried several times, even trying Chantix, the nicotine patch, and other techniques. But in the end, it's been hard to kick the pleasurable sensation of cigarettes. What if you could just remove that?


In fact, there's a company called Nabi BioPharmaceuticals that is trying to harness the immune system to neutralize the reinforcing effect of nicotine. Anyone interested can see a few summary videos of their "NicVax" (Nicotine Conjugated Vaccine) concept , but the brief summary is that they've created a vaccine made of a nicotine derivative bound to a special carrier protein that, when injected, can teach the immune system to generate antibodies that recognize nicotine, bid to it in the bloodstream, and therefore block the ability of nicotine to cross through the blood brain barrier and stimulate receptors on brain neurons that release neurotransmitters signalling reward/pleasure. It's injected a total of six times over six months.

Over the past few years, the company has done research that is highlighted in a company summary document that clearly demonstrates that many, but not all, patients who receive the NicVax vaccine generate an antibody response to nicotine. Suggesting a cause/effect relationship was the fact that there was a good correlation of high levels of anti-nicotine antibodies and success at quitting, measured by reported behavior and also blood tests to confirm it. When the company looked at differences between those who quit and those who continued to smoke, the people who quit had significantly higher antibody levels than those who didn't quit. Also, when they looked at the top 30% in terms of antibody levels (a group that I must presume that they arrived at because they kept looking at the data from every angle and focused on the one that made their work look most promising through the "retrospectoscope"), that group achieved a nearly 25% sustained quit rate, vs. only 13% for the recipients of placebo vaccine injections.

Among the leading questions, then, are:

1) Why don't all vaccinated patients achieve a good antibody response?

2) Why don't all patients who achieve an antibody response lose the desire to smoke?

3) If this is a sustained immune response, why do some of the people who quit smoking for a few months begin smoking again several months later?

This research is moving forward with some large clinical trials to test effectiveness. One randomized phase III trial that is just getting started in the US, by Nabi in collaboration with the National Institute of Drug Abuse, is comparing NicVax to placebo in 1000 actively smoking patients. Another randomized phase III trial of 600 active smokers is based on the Netherlands and giving the Chantix pill in combination with either the NicVax vaccine or placebo. So while there is still more work to be done, this approach may lead to more people being able to quit smoking forever, a very good thing even if it isn't the answer for everyone.

Next Previous link

Previous PostNext Post

Related Content

Lung Cancer OncTalk 2023
At our live event, Lung Cancer OncTalk 2023, Dr. Jeff Yang, discusses different surgical procedures used to treat early-stage lung cancer and different approaches to removing cancerous tissue from the lung. 
Lung Cancer OncTalk 2023
At our live event, Lung Cancer OncTalk 2023, Dr. Millie Das, discusses different Studies and Trials for NSCLC. Dr. Das specializes in the treatment of thoracic malignancies. She sees and treats patients both at the Stanford Cancer Center and at the Palo Alto VA Hospital. She is the Chief of Oncology at the Palo Alto VA and is an active member of the VA National Lung Cancer Working Group and Lung Cancer Precision Oncology Program. Learn more about Dr. Das here.
The Importance of Early Detection 2023
Drs. Meredith McKean, Dr. Doug Micalizzi and patient advocate and lung cancer survivor, Ivy Elkins, discuss the importance of early detection and treatment across cancer types, including skin, lung, and breast. To watch the complete playlist click here.

Forum Discussions

Hi Blaze,


As much as I hate to say it, Welcome back Blaze.  It sounds like you're otherwise feeling good and enjoying life which is a wonderful place to be. ...

Waiting for my appointment with oncologist this morning. Thank you for the response. It helps. <3

It sounds like you’re thinking of this in a very appropriate way. Specifically, it sounds like the growth of the nodule is rather modest, though keep in mind that the change...

Hi and welcome to GRACE.  I'm sorry your mom is having this difficulty.  An indwelling catheter is used when the pleura space continually fills and the catheter is always there to...

Hi Oaktowngrrl,  Welcome to Grace.  I'm so sorry you're going through this.


 Finding a reputable dedicated thoracic surgeon for lung surgery might be difficult, as it is a complex and...

Recent Comments

Could you
By Maeve785 on
It sounds like you’re…
By Dr West on
Thank you Janine
By blaze100 on
Hi Blaze,


As much as I…
By JanineT GRACE … on