Treating Schizophrenia with Nicotine

It may seem strange that a cigarette company is leading the development of a new experimental treatment for schizophrenia, but Winston-Salem-owned pharmaceutical company Targacept is indeed conducting research on a promising compound: nicotine.

At a TED talk recently, Targacept CEO Don deBethizy traced the development of nicotine-based treatments and the growth of his own company out of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. department of research and development. The department's original purpose was to identify effective therapeutic purposes for nicotine. Now, it's entering Phase 2 clinical trials with a drug to treat both schizophrenia and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Called TC-5619, the latest drug to undergo trials represents decades of accumulated knowledge, and the most promising effort to date for mitigating nicotine's worst effects while keeping its potent, useful ones.

If some of the symptoms of schizophrenia include memory problems and attention deficiency, then nicotine seems well-suited to the task of alleviating them. Especially promising are several prior studies that demonstrated nicotine's effect on improving both long- and short-term memory.

Much of the work that has been done with nicotine has revolved around the removal of negative side affects, but deBethizy claims that they are nearly ready to add nicotine to clinicians' tool belts. He argues that it's "an exciting time to be in medicine" and new medicines will continue to be found in the most unlikely places.

Source: The Business Journal

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