Bloomberg News

Smokers Quit With Cheap Remedy Used in Bulgaria for 40 Years

September 29, 2011

(Adds Extab CEO’s comments starting in fourth paragraph.)

Sept. 29 (Bloomberg) -- For as little as $6, there may be a smoking-cessation remedy that actually works.

A clinical test of Tabex, sold in eastern Europe for more than four decades, shows that the plant-based medicine can triple smokers’ chances of quitting compared with a dummy pill. The results of a study on 740 people were published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The tablet, developed and sold by Bulgaria’s Sopharma AD, may help smokers with limited means quit, scientists said. Most of the 6 million people who die from tobacco use each year are from low- and middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organization. Sopharma Chief Executive Officer Ognian Donev and Rick Stewart, former CEO of Amarin Corp., have formed a company called Extab Corp. that’s trying to raise $20 million to fund more tests and find a marketing partner.

“Big Pharma are clearly aware of Tabex but I think they will be pleasantly surprised by the quality of these results,” Stewart said in a telephone interview. Extab aims to conduct at least one more clinical trial and expects to be able to seek regulatory approval at the end of 2013, according to Stewart.

In the study, 8.4 percent of patients taking Tabex for 25 days with “minimal” counseling abstained from smoking for a year, compared with 2.4 percent of those given a placebo. The smokers who took the plant-based remedy reported more gastrointestinal upset, the research shows.

Poor Smokers

“The benefits of Tabex are comparable with those of other smoking-cessation treatments, but at a fraction of the cost,” Robert West of University College London’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, who led the research team, said in a statement.

“Stopping smoking can be extremely difficult,” West said, and the study’s results suggest Tabex could become “a practical option even for the poorest smokers.”

In India, where 20 cigarettes cost about $1.10, a course of nicotine-replacement therapy costs about $150 and smoking- cessation drugs as much as $200, West and his colleagues wrote.

A 25-day course of Tabex, which was first sold in Bulgaria in 1964, costs about $15 in Poland and $6 in Russia, where it’s sold over the counter, the authors said.

Extab, incorporated in Delaware, is in talks with drugmakers interested in selling the product, according to Stewart. The plan is to seek permission to sell Tabex in the U.S., Europe, Japan and developing countries and charge no more than the local price of a pack of cigarettes, he said.

Price of Life

“If someone is willing to pay that amount to kill themselves then you think they will be ready to pay as much or less to stop smoking,” Stewart said.

Tabex tablets contain cytisine, a substance found in the seeds of a tree called laburnum that produces yellow pea- flowers, which mimics the effect of nicotine.

Pfizer Inc.’s Chantix, a smoking-cessation drug available in the U.S. and Europe on prescription, is also derived from cytisine. One week’s worth of tablets for a patient taking three a day costs about $63 on the website

The absolute difference in rates of tobacco abstinence between the two patient groups in the Tabex study was lower than for Chantix and similar to what has been found for nicotine- replacement therapy, the scientists wrote in the study.

--Editors: David Risser, Robert Valpuesta.

To contact the reporter on this story: Marthe Fourcade in Paris at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Phil Serafino at

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