US drug giant Pfizer’s novel smoking cessation aid Champix has been

launched in the UK, bringing new hope to thousands of smokers trying to

give up the cigarettes.

Champix (varenicline) is the first non-nicotine medication specifically

designed to help people give up smoking, and works by reducing the

severity of the smoker’s urge to smoke and alleviating many withdrawal

symptoms from nicotine. Moreover, if a person smokes a cigarette while

receiving treatment, the medicine has the potential to diminish the sense

of satisfaction associated with smoking. This dual mode of action sets it

apart from other smoking cessation aids currently on the market, the

company said.

European regulators gave the go-ahead for the drug’s introduction in

September, on the back of a clinical trial programme involving around

4,000 heavy, long-term cigarette smokers. In two studies, patients

receiving a 12-week course of varenicline therapy had nearly four times

the odds of quitting versus those taking placebo, as well as nearly twice

the odds of quitting compared to those taking rival smoking cessation

product Zyban (bupropion) SR from GlaxoSmithKline.

Varenicline is already available in the USA, as Chantix, and costs around

$3 a day. In Europe alone, more than 1.2 million people die each year from

smoking-related diseases, and analysts have said the drug could achieve

sales of between $500 million and $1 billion a year at its peak.