The first human trials are to begin of an anti-smoking vaccine, the British company responsible for its development said yesterday.

The Cambridge-based biotechnology company Xenova said its vaccine, TA-NIC – which is being developed for the treatment of nicotine addiction – had been accepted for phase 1 clinical trials. It will be tested on 60 smokers and non-smokers and works by "mopping up" nicotine before it reaches the brain and triggers addiction responses.

Xenova's medical director, John St Clair Roberts, said: "This is the first time an anti-smoking vaccine has gone under clinical trials. We are trying to keep nicotine out of the brain unlike other nicotine replacement therapies." He said the vaccine, which will be injected, works because nicotine molecules are so small they are not recognised by the immune system. It would alter the immune system so it would recognise nicotine and produce antibodies.

David Oxlade, Xenova's chief executive, said: ""Although at an early stage of development, if TA-NIC can be of assistance it could have an important contribution to make in reducing the burdens that smoking imposes."

Clive Bates, of the anti-smoking pressure group ASH, said: "A nicotine vaccine would be a profound development, which would effectively become one of the most important medicines in the response to cancer, lung and heart disease."