Targacept targets nicotine

September 1, 1999

Pharmaceutical Representative

RJR Tobacco Co., long known for its cigarette products, is turning its knowledge of nicotine into compounds that fight Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

RJR Tobacco Co., long known for its cigarette products, is turning its knowledge of nicotine into compounds that fight Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

Through its Targacept Inc. subsidiary, RJR intends to work with pharmaceutical companies toward the development and commercialization of nicotinic compounds for therapeutic purposes.

According to Seth Moskowitz, spokesperson for Targacept, the efforts that led to Targacept began more than a decade ago when discoveries were made about the effects of nicotine on the human body. "There was the discovery in the 1980s that nicotine interacts with several types of receptors in the body," he said. "There was an understanding also from some epidemiological studies that smokers had lower incidence of certain diseases [such as] Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and ulcerative colitis. Researchers in various places found that nicotine and various nicotinic compounds could be used to alleviate some of the symptoms of some of these diseases." Because RJR was a tobacco company, it began doing research on nicotine and created Targacept in 1997.

Trying to turn nicotine into a compound for the treatment of disease has not been without its challenges. The trick is to create a compound that has the therapeutic benefits of nicotine without its side effects. Some of the side effects of nicotine can be nausea, increased heart rate and increased pulse rate. According to Moskowitz, nicotinic compounds fall into two different categories: nicotine analogs that are chemically related to nicotine, and other compounds that are chemically unrelated to nicotine. Targacept has focused on synthesizing novel compounds that are unrelated to nicotine, but still have some of its beneficial effects.

Targacept is not a drug company, Moskowitz was quick to point out, and has no plans to manufacture pharmaceuticals. Instead, it plans to partner with pharmaceutical companies to commercialize the compounds. One such partnership was realized earlier this year when Targacept formed a collaborative agreement with French pharmaceutical manufacturer Rhône-Poulenc Rorer Inc.

Under the agreement, Rhône-Poulenc Rorer obtained exclusive global rights to certain nicotinic compounds that have shown potential to treat Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. The agreement also establishes a two-year collaboration period for further development of brain-selective nicotinic compounds for treatment of these two diseases.

"This agreement will help us develop and test drugs that may prove beneficial in the treatment of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases," said François Meyer, senior vice president of research for Rhône-Poulenc Rorer.

Academia aids effort

Scientists at RJR's Targacept are not the only ones working on the medicinal applications of nicotinic compounds.

Researchers at the University of South Florida and in the United Kingdom have shown dramatic results using nicotine for the treatment of Tourette's syndrome. And researchers at Duke University have recently shown that the nicotine patch significantly improves symptoms in adults with attention deficit disorder. Abbott Laboratories is also funding research on a compound that has demonstrated beneficial effects on memory and another nicotine-like compound that appears to have potential as an analgesic.

"There are a number of academic institutions and pharmaceutical companies that have been looking at nicotine, nicotine analogs and other nicotinic compounds for a wide variety of disorders," said Moskowitz. "It's a very promising field of research that is really getting a lot of attention in a variety of quarters these days." PR

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