Scientists say they have developed over a dozen drugs which may help smokers reduce their consumption of tobacco, if not quit altogether.

The researchers from the Washington State University in the US created the substances with the potential to curb smokers’ desire for nicotine by slowing how it is broken down in the body.

The finding, published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, targets a liver enzyme, called CYP2A6, which metabolises nicotine.

Nicotine triggers the release of dopamine and serotonin, two pleasure-causing chemicals produced by the body.

However, as it gets metabolised, users can experience withdrawal symptoms like tingling in the hands and feet, sweating, anxiety and irritability.

This is the feeling that the researchers are targeting, said Travis Denton, an assistant professor at the Washington State University.

Denton and Philip Lazarus, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences, designed dozens of molecules that bind to CYP2A6 and inhibit its ability to metabolise nicotine.

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“If you inhibit CYP2A6, it should not bother your overall health,” said Lazarus.

“If we could specifically target this enzyme, people should be fine, and it will possibly help them stop smoking or at least decrease their amount of smoking,” he said.

The researchers have tested their candidate drugs to make sure they do not disrupt other major enzymes that help the body metabolise other substances.

This helped narrow the number of potential drugs down to 18.

Once the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) verifies a drug’s safety, clinical trials would begin to see how it works in a human, researchers said.