Pfizer has been given a boost by the news that the UK body in charge which decides on the cost-effectiveness of drugs prescribed on the National Health Service has given a thumbs-up to the firm’s smoking cessation treatment Champix.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has recommended Champix (varenicline) for use on the NHS for adult smokers who have expressed a desire to quit, concluding that the drug is “superior to nicotine replacement therapy and bupropion [GlaxoSmithKline’s Zyban] in achieving continuous abstinence." In view of this, the agency declared that its use in smoking cessation was “likely to be a cost-effective use of NHS resources.”

Champix has made quite an impact since it received regulatory approval in the USA, where it is sold as Chantix, and Europe last year, making it the first new prescription aid to smoking cessation to get the go-ahead in nearly a decade. Much of that excitement is due to its unique mechanism of action: it blocks the pleasure receptors in the brain associated with cigarette smoking and nicotine, and cuts the level of withdrawal symptoms that often drive a return to the addiction. Also a recent review of Champix has shown that taking the drug trebles the odds for a person successfully quitting the habit, compared with those on placebo.

Jack Watters, Pfizer’s vice president of International Medical Affairs, said the NICE guidance “recognises the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of Champix, and encourages physicians and smokers to consider this treatment as a new treatment option to help smokers quit smoking”. He added that “the implications of this ruling are particularly timely as they come just before World No Tobacco Day.”

Smoking, the leading cause of preventable death worldwide, is responsible for five million deaths worldwide each year. By 2010, the World Health Organisation estimates the annual global cost of tobacco-related illness to be approximately $500 billion.