New Anti-Smoking Drug In Development That ‘Eats’ Nicotine

A new anti-smoking drug is in the process of being developed that contains an enzyme that essentially “eats” nicotine before it reaches the brain.

Scientific researchers at the Scripps Research Institute have been studying a bacterial enzyme that appears to effectively eat nicotine. Thus far, the bacterial enzyme seems relatively simple to recreate in a laboratory setting.

Lead researcher Kim Janda and his team have been looking for such an anti-smoking enzyme for over 30 years. Their latest research was published on August 6 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Janda’s new anti-smoking enzyme will be a viable alternative to current anti-smoking aids such as nicotine patches, gum, and lozenges, which are found to fail to help 80 to 90 percent of smokers who use them.

The way that the new anti-smoking enzyme would work is pretty revolutionary. According to Janda, the enzyme would attack and eat any and all nicotine contained in tobacco products before it reaches the brain, thus, depriving the smoker of the chemical rewards the brain perceives that its receiving from the nicotine. In time, even though someone is using a tobacco product as they normally would — they’re perceiving the same tastes and smells as usual — the lack of nicotine reaching the brain will eventually make it not as pleasurable, and they’ll quit. At least, that’s the idea.

Current anti-smoking aids such as patches, gum, and lozenges merely substitute the nicotine in tobacco products for the nicotine in the cessation product. If a smoker sticks with the cessation product, they get addicted to that instead of tobacco. Studies show that anti-smoking aids can be just as difficult to quit as smoking.

The enzyme that Janda and his team have come across is dubbed NicA2. The bacterium was originally isolated from soil in a tobacco field, and it consumes — or eats — nicotine as its sole source of carbon and nitrogen. It is perhaps poetic that an enzyme that may eventually help millions of tobacco users kick the habit was actually produced by the very tobacco they’re trying to quit in the first place.

Janda says that the enzyme is still in the early stages of development. The anti-smoking enzyme will eventually be available from a doctor via an injection. The researchers are hoping that one injection of the new anti-smoking bacterium will last an entire month.

[Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images]