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Pharma Looks To Repackage Old Drugs

Big Pharma is looking to an old diabetes drug to help in the war against vaping (err, edit: smoking).

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Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (they of many an anti-vape study) worked with academics at the University of Pennsylvania to see if they can appropriate the diabetes drug metformin as a quit-smoking medication.

“In a mouse study, a drug that has helped millions of people around the world manage their diabetes might also help people ready to kick their nicotine habits,” proclaims the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine publicity department.

The research was published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America journal, and the team claim that diabetes II drug metformin reduced nicotine withdrawal anxiety in mice. This will come as great news to all the smoking mice out there.

Previous research highlighted that nicotine triggers a unique chemical pathway in the human brain. It is called AMP-activated protein kinase, or AMPK, and affects the region of the brain controlling emotions and memory.

It is thought that stopping the intake of nicotine (commonly during a smoking cessation attempt) stops the activation of the AMPK enzyme. This, it is believed, is what leads to nicotine withdrawal symptoms (anxiety, irritability and loss of concentration).

Metformin was shown to activate AMPK in previous studies, so researchers set out to discover if it could reduce anxiety during nicotine withdrawal. Mice were fed nicotine for a week to trigger the AMPK pathway and then a further week to cement the addiction. Then they were treated with the drug.

Julie Blendy, Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics at Pennsylvania, said: “Though we are just beginning to characterise this new role for metformin, our study suggests that the protein it acts on could be a new target for smoking cessation treatment.”

The paper states: “Based on our findings demonstrating the efficacy of metformin in alleviating anxiety-like behaviour following nicotine withdrawal, we propose that AMPK activation in the brain via metformin can be repurposed as a novel pharmacotherapy for nicotine cessation.”

The team believes that it is a safe drug to use for stopping smoking and provides an additional benefit in that it will also normalise blood glucose levels and aid with post cessation weight gain.

Some are already concerned about the over-medicalisation of a quit process. For example, metformin is not suitable for those suffering from impaired kidney or liver functions.

Sangwon Kim, Johns Hopkins University, believes this drug will offer a new route to quitting. Kim states that the current offering is limited to nicotine replacement, an antidepressant and a medication aimed at “reducing the cravings for and pleasurable effects of cigarettes”. This drug, according to the team, will treat nicotine dependence directly.

While this might be good news for those who would like to cut nicotine from their lives, vaping offers a safer route to informed-choice use. Also, it is believed that nicotine does not have the same addictive quality when present in vape when compared to smoke.

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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