At least that's what Nabi Biopharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:NABI) suggests based on the results of a small phase 2 trial with the drug NicVAX that was released yesterday. NicVAX is a nicotine vaccine, which means it is intended to stimulate the immune system to develop antibodies against nicotine. The antibodies then attach themselves to nicotine when the person smokes. Since the nicotine has an antibody attached, it cannot enter the brain, where it exerts its "rush" effect. The idea is that this will help smokers kick the habit.

In the phase 2 trial, 68 smokers were divided into four groups. Three of the groups received different doses of NicVAX and the fourth got a placebo. Nabi reported that smokers who received the highest dose of NicVAX had a 33% quitting rate vs. 9% for the placebo.

That's an encouraging result, but at this time it has to be considered very preliminary. The sample size is just too small to draw definitive conclusions. Also, "data by press release" is almost always incomplete, as clinical trial data tends to be released in full at medical meetings. Investors will have to wait until next year for the release of all of the results of this study. One key piece of information to look for is the number of patients in each group that developed antibodies to nicotine and if that correlates with the patients who quit smoking. If NicVAX does indeed work, this correlation should be strong.

The smoking cessation market is competitive. If NicVAX makes it onto the market, it will have to compete with other products such as Nicorette and Zyban from GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK). If a quit rate in excess of 30% is confirmed in larger studies, NicVAX should be able to compete with the other products. Especially if NicVAX has a longer-lasting effect, which should be the case as it is a vaccine.

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Fool contributor Charly Travers doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article.

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