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Lose the habit without gaining the weight
New anti-smoking medication may also prevent weight gain

BOSTON - September 10, 2004 - Kicking the smoking habit is not only difficult, but also intimidating to smokers who fear that while shedding a bad habit, they'll end up packing on unwanted pounds. But there may be a way to avoid the extra weight. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) are participating in a national clinical trial for a new smoking cessation medication called rimonabant.

"Rimonabant differs fundamentally from any drug currently available to help smokers quit," says Nancy Rigotti, MD, director of the MGH Tobacco Research and Treatment Center. "The drug appears to act in the brain on pathways that play a role in reward and the regulation of food intake. These systems are disrupted by tobacco use, and rimonabant may help to correct the imbalance."

Research presented at the March 2004 American College of Cardiology annual meeting suggests that rimonabant may have a distinctive dual effect that could prove critical in helping patients to quit smoking while reducing the chance of weight gain. In that study, rimonabant doubled the odds of quitting smoking and prevented most or all of the typical weight gain that occurs after quitting smoking. Of those who completed the study, 36.2 percent of participants treated with rimonabant quit smoking, compared with 20.6 percent of those with placebo. On average, patients lost just over half a pound on rimonabant while patients on placebo had an average weight gain of 2.4 pounds.

"Fear of weight gain keeps people from trying to quit and interferes with the success of smokers who try. We really need an approach that will address both quitting and the weight gain," says Rigotti. Rimonabant differs from all currently available smoking cessation treatments. Unlike the patch or gum, it is not nicotine replacement, and unlike bupropion (Zyban), it is not an antidepressant.

Enrollment in the randomized clinical trial at MGH has just begun. Volunteers must be healthy, over age 18, smoke at least 15 cigarettes per day over the last two months, and motivated to stop smoking. Sanofi-Synthelabo, the manufacturer of rimonabant, funds the research. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved marketing for the drug.

People in the New England area who meet the study criteria and wish to participate in the study should call (617) 724-0736.

Massachusetts General Hospital, established in 1811, is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. The MGH conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, with an annual research budget of more than $400 million and major research centers in AIDS, cardiovascular research, cancer, cutaneous biology, medical imaging, neurodegenerative disorders, transplantation biology and photomedicine. In 1994, MGH and Brigham and Women's Hospital joined to form Partners HealthCare System, an integrated health care delivery system comprising the two academic medical centers, specialty and community hospitals, a network of physician groups, and nonacute and home health services.

Media Contact: Donita Boddie , MGH Public Affairs

Physician Referral Service: 1-800-388-4644
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