Developer looks to nanoparticles for smoking cessation vaccine

Last week, Selecta Biosciences, a 2011 Fierce 15 company, announced that it has started a Phase I trial of a synthetic nanoparticle vaccine for smoking cessation. The shot, called SEL-068, is designed to train the body's immune system to capture nicotine molecules, preventing those molecules from reaching the brain. Curtailing the feel-good effects of nicotine could give smokers a better chance at kicking the habit.

The Boston Globe notes that 46 million Americans are smokers, and that each year about half of them try to quit. However, just 5 percent are able to do so permanently. "Smoking is clearly the most preventable cause of disease, and it's one of the big contributors to health care costs going up," Selecta CEO Werner Cautreels told the Globe. "As a result, most insurers will completely reimburse products that help people stop smoking.''

Selecta's vaccine uses lab-engineered nanoparticles, making it different than a typical flu shot, which is made from weakened strains of the virus. Its first study will examine the safety of SEL-068 in healthy smokers and nonsmokers. Researchers will also be looking for an immune response that indicates whether the vaccine causes the body to produce antibodies against nicotine. 

If successful, the vaccine could present an attractive option for smokers trying to quit. Current smoking cessation methods rely on daily patches and pills to control nicotine cravings. One dose of Selecta's vaccine could last up to a year, with occasional boosters to prevent relapse. However, it may take time for smokers to feel the effects of the vaccine. "Most people, when they want to quit smoking, they want to do it today," explains University of Vermont psychiatry professor John Hughes. "It's impulsive.''

Selecta, which has raised $80 million for its work thus far, would likely need to partner with a much larger pharma company in order to launch a successful marketing campaign for its vaccine.

- read The Boston Globe article for more

Special Report: Selecta Biosciences - 2011 Fierce 15