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.

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Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.