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New Anti-smoking Drug Approved

FDA gives OK to varenicline


Updated May 25, 2006

By DrRich

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration gave Pfizer, Inc. approval to market varenicline (trade name, Chantix), a new drug aimed at helping individuals stop smoking.

Varenicline is classified as a nicotine-receptor blocker. The drug binds to the receptors for nicotine within the brain, thus preventing nicotine itself from binding to those receptors. As a result, the drug reduces or eliminates the pleasurable effects people experience from smoking. At the same time, the drug has a mild stimulating effect on those same nicotine receptors - an effect that helps reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

Recent studies conducted by Pfizer suggest that smokers are more likely to successfully quit cigarettes with varenicline than with either a placebo or bupropion (Zyban, another anti-smoking drug). While the success rate was significantly improved with varenicline, the drug is no panacea. Only about 50% of individuals receiving varenicline successfully stayed off cigarettes for the full 12-week course of therapy, and only about 25% of those treated stayed off for as long as 1 year.

The FDA approval of varenicline allows for a treatment course of 12 weeks, though a second 12-week course can be given in some individuals. The most common known side effects appear to be related to gastrointestinal symptoms (of nearly every description), headache, and sleep disturbances.

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