GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK ) and Nabi Biopharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: NABI ) set up a nice partnership yesterday for Nabi's NicVAX. Let's just hope it doesn't flame out in phase 3 trials.
NicVAX is designed to help people quit smoking. The vaccine stimulates the body to create antibodies to nicotine, which should bind to nicotine, prevent it from crossing the blood-brain barrier, and thus decrease its euphoric, addictive effects. Removing that effect should make it easier for smokers to quit.
It sounds good in theory, but I wouldn't go out and start shorting cigarette makers like Altria (NYSE: MO ) , Reynolds American (NYSE: RAI ) , and British American Tobacco (NYSE: BTI ) just yet.
In reality, creating a vaccine for nicotine might be more difficult. Earlier this year, Cytos Biotechnology and Novartis (NYSE: NVS ) had a similar vaccine go up in flames. Glaxo has hedged its bet by paying $40 million for an option to license the drug and letting Nabi continue to pay for the two planned phase 3 clinical trials. If the drug works and Glaxo picks up the option, it'll be on the hook for milestone payments, which could top $460 million if a second-generation vaccine is also a success.
But the milestone payments and a double-digit royalty would be a small price to pay if NicVAX turns out to work. Pfizer's (NYSE: PFE ) smoking-cessation product, Chantix, had sales of $524 million through the first nine months of the year, and it's ripe for being picked off after reports of psychiatric side effects have led to a double-digit decline in sales.
But before it can compete, NicVAX is going to have to emerge from the smoke-filled uncertainty of clinical development with positive clinical trial results.