Researchers develop candidate drugs to help treat nicotine addiction

Cigarette consumption remains one of the most strenuous habits to quit, causing nearly one in every five deaths in the U.S. For this reason, Washington State University researchers have turned to nearly a dozen new candidate drugs with the potential to induce smoking cessation properties.

The candidate drugs, according to researchers, can curb smokers’ craving for nicotine by slowing down its breakdown process in the body. CYP2A6, a liver enzyme responsible for the oxidation of nicotine, is the key focus of the study. Researchers discovered that fewer copies of a gene for the enzyme was associated with a lower risk of addiction.

One of the biggest complaints of nicotine addiction targeted by researchers is withdrawal symptoms, which occurs during the metabolization of nicotine as it releases dopamine and serotonin; symptoms may include anxiety, sweating, and irritability.

“I quit cold turkey and I know how hard it is. Would this have helped? I believe so, because again, the people who want to quit, really want to quit. They just can’t because it’s too doggone hard. Imagine if you could take this pill and your jitters don’t come on as fast — it’s just super reinforcing to help you quit,” said Travis Denton, the study’s lead author.

Denton, along with his team of researchers, was able to construct dozens of molecules which bind to CYP2A6 and inhibit the metabolization of nicotine, resulting in possible cessation of cravings.

“If you inhibit CYP2A6, it shouldn’t bother your overall health. If we could specifically target this enzyme, people should be fine, and it will possibly help them stop smoking or at least decrease their amount of smoking.”

Researchers have investigated the candidate drugs for any disruption of other major enzymes which helps metabolize other substances in the body. The study resulted in 18 potential drugs that could help efficiently treat nicotine addiction.

The candidate drugs are to be verified for its safety by the Food and Drug Administration before entering clinical trials in humans.

The findings were published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

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