In the late 1990s, scientists from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company published many papers and abstracts about neuronal nicotinic receptors (NNRs). Knowing that such receptors respond to nicotine explains why a tobacco company would study them. Moreover, some research indicates that NNRs could play a role in tobacco's toxic effects. For example, bronchial epithelial cells express NNRs. Nonetheless, NNRs might lead to more than toxicity. Targacept, a spinoff from Reynolds, hopes to put NNRs to healthy purposes.


Headquartered in Winston-Salem, NC, Targacept started out as a subsidiary of R.J. Reynolds. Now on its own, Targacept plans to turn tobacco research into a pharmaceutical pipeline. Moreover, this strategy appears to be working. At the beginning of this year, Targacept started a Phase I trial of its...

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