Pfizer's Chantix/Champix (varenicline) has been found to help smokers unable to quit 'cold turkey' kick their habit by gradually reducing the daily number of cigarettes instead.

The first study to assess the drug in people wanting to reduce smoking prior to quitting has shown that it helped improve abstinence rates.

In the trial, patients willing to quit smoking after a 12-week gradual reduction phase were randomised to receive either Chantix/Champix or placebo for 24 weeks of treatment, followed by a 28-week non-treatment phase.  

Results showed that continuous abstinence rates at weeks 15 through 24 (the primary endpoint) were significantly higher in the treatment arm (32.1%) than the placebo group (6.9%), indicating the drug's potential in this approach to quitting.

In addition, no new safety signals were raised in the study, its tolerability profile being generally consistent with previously clinical studies, the firm said. 

Compared to the control arm, the most commonly reported side effects in patients taking Chantix/Champix were nausea (27.8% versus 9%), nasopharyngitis (13% versus 12%), abnormal dreams (11.5% vs 5.8%) and insomnia (10.7% vs. 6.9%).

The drug was first approved in the US in 2006, but its recent performance has been slipping, with fourth-quarter 2013 sales down 1% at $174 million. 

The company will no doubt be hoping that the data backing its use in the gradual reduction approach to quitting smoking will help breathe a little new life into Chantix/Champix' sales.