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DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke University Medical Center officials Friday announced the launch of a new Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation Research. The center, an expansion and consolidation of the Duke Nicotine Research Program, will seek to develop, evaluate and disseminate improved methods to quit smoking, Duke nicotine researchers said.

The new center is being established with $15 million in funds from Philip Morris USA. The funds will be distributed annually in $5 million increments over the next three years. Consistent with Duke University policy, the researchers will have sole responsibility for the direction of the research and will be free to publish the results of the research without prior review or approval from Philip Morris USA. The university will also retain the rights to any patents or other intellectual property arising from the center.

"Smoking is a leading cause of preventable death in the United States," said R. Sanders Williams, M.D., dean of the school of medicine. "By quitting, smokers significantly lower their chances of contracting cancer and other serious smoking-related illnesses. The Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation Research will put Duke at the forefront of research into nicotine addiction and the development of tools that can help smokers quit, offering them the opportunity to improve their health and quality of life."

Williams said Jed Rose, Ph.D., director of the Duke Nicotine Research Program, research professor of biological psychiatry and co-creator of the nicotine patch, will lead the new center with additional guidance from an independent scientific advisory board consisting of international experts appointed by Duke.

"Over the last 20 years, our program has given rise to several promising quit-smoking methods," Rose said. "Existing smoking cessation methods have had limited success, with quit rates often falling below 15 percent after six months. There is an urgent need for more effective treatments that can have a significant impact when disseminated to the public. We now have a unique opportunity to make more rapid progress toward solving the problem of tobacco addiction."

Rose founded the Nicotine Research Program in 1979 at the University of California, Los Angeles. He then moved the program to Duke in 1989. The team's work has paved the way for several smoking cessation treatments, most notably the nicotine skin patch. More recent work has evaluated the use of another drug, mecamylamine, in combination with the nicotine patch to further reduce smokers' cravings and improve quitting success.

The new center's multi-faceted approach to the development of improved treatment methods, ranging from laboratory investigations to clinical practice, will include the following key strategies:

• Evaluation of rational combinations of existing behavioral and pharmacologic approaches to smoking cessation treatment;

• Determination of which treatments are most effective for different subpopulations of smokers, based on demographic, genetic, medical or psychological classifications;

• Study of the motivations underlying tobacco addiction, such as cognitive enhancement, mood regulation or weight control, so that more effective replacement or blockade treatments might be designed; and

• Identification of novel compounds that show promise for medication development through laboratory and animal studies.

To accelerate the development of improved quitting methods, the center will establish additional clinical facilities and research offices in North Carolina, Rose said. Four sites have tentatively been identified in the state, including Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Durham and Raleigh. The new facilities are expected to be up and running within the next year, he said.

"These locations will provide access to a large population of smokers for recruitment into studies and for dissemination of information into the community," Rose said.

Duke University Provost Peter Lange, the university's senior academic officer, said the new center "builds on the university's research in this important field, providing a stronger scientific basis to help people quit smoking. This agreement enables Dr. Rose and his scientific colleagues to pursue their research with all of the necessary academic safeguards, and we look forward to outcomes that will not only advance science but also save lives."

Other key members of the center will include medical director Eric Westman, M.D., associate professor of general internal medicine, and director of preclinical research Edward Levin, Ph.D., professor of biological psychiatry, both of Duke. In addition to Rose's role as director of the center, he will also lead the human laboratory research component. A director of clinical trials and dissemination has yet to be announced. A data safety monitoring board will review the safety of human clinical studies conducted by the center.

A copy of the letter of agreement between Philip Morris USA and Duke University can be found at http://dukemednews.org/news/article.php?id=7670.