GlaxoSmithKline has linked up with Nabi Biopharmaceuticals to get an exclusive worldwide option to the US firm’s NicVax, an investigational vaccine for nicotine addiction and the prevention of smoking relapse.

Under the terms of the deal, GSK will pay Nabi an upfront fee of $40 million, giving it an option to in-license NicVax and develop follow-on next-generation nicotine vaccines. On top of that, Nabi is eligible to receive over $500 million in option fees and regulatory, development and sales milestones, plus double-digit royalties.

NicVax has recently entered the first of two Phase III trials. The vaccine is designed to stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies that bind to nicotine and a nicotine molecule attached to an antibody is too large to cross the blood-brain barrier. Therefore, the companies note, NicVax blocks nicotine from reaching its receptors in the brain “and prevents the highly-addictive pleasure sensation experienced by smokers and users of nicotine products”.

Nabi also believes the vaccine could also be effective in preventing smoking relapse. Relapse is a significant challenge facing smokers and currently-available therapies have relapse rates that can be as high as 90% in the first year after a smoker quits.

Jean Stephenne, president of GSK Biologicals, said that if approved, “this smoking cessation vaccine technology could be a novel solution to help the millions of smokers who want to stop smoking and remain abstinent; a habit that is well documented to be very hard to stop permanently”.

GSK and Nabi signed a deal earlier this year which saw the drugs major acquire the latter’s investigational Staphylococcus aureus vaccine and related assets.