Introduction: The vast majority of tobacco smokers seeking to quit will relapse within the first month of abstinence. Currently available smoking cessation agents have limited utility in increasing rates of smoking cessation and in some cases there are notable safety concerns related to their use. Hence, there is a pressing need to develop safer and more efficacious smoking cessation medications.
Methods: Here, we provide an overview of current efforts to develop new pharmacotherapeutic agents to facilitate smoking cessation, identified from ongoing clinical trials and published reports.
Results: Nicotine is considered the major addictive agent in tobacco smoke, and the vast majority of currently available smoking cessation agents act by modulating nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) signaling. Accordingly, there is much effort directed toward developing novel small molecule therapeutics and biological agents such as nicotine vaccines for smoking cessation that act by modulating nAChR activity. Our increasing knowledge of the neurobiology of nicotine addiction has revealed new targets for novel smoking cessation therapeutics. Indeed, we highlight many examples of novel small molecule drug development around non-nAChR targets. Finally, there is a growing appreciation that medications already approved for other disease indications could show promise as smoking cessation agents, and we consider examples of such repurposing efforts.
Conclusion: Ongoing clinical assessment of potential smoking cessation agents offers the promise of new effective medications. Nevertheless, much of our current knowledge of molecular mechanisms of nicotine addiction derived from preclinical studies has not yet been leveraged for medications development.