Smokers may soon be able to break their habit with an injectable vaccine that prevents nicotine in tobacco entering the brain, where it creates a highly addictive sensation of pleasure.

The NicVAX vaccine moved closer to the market on Monday after a deal between GlaxoSmithKline and the US biotech company Nabi Pharmaceuticals, which developed the product.

GSK will pay $40m (£24m) up front and as much as $500m in the future to Nabi at a time of growing concern over the heavy burden of tobacco-related diseases as one of the leading preventable causes of death worldwide.

The product potentially opens a new front in the tobacco wars, with most existing so-called smoking cessation products and methods failing to prevent many people from returning to their tobacco habits.

The vaccine helps create antibodies that bind to nicotine molecules, preventing them from passing from the blood into the brain. Trials have shown that it halves the number of people returning to their habit compared with those given a placebo over six months. Those vaccinated were 3.5 times more likely not to be smoking again after a year.

Jean Stephenne, president of GSK's Biologicals division, said: "If approved, this . . . technology could be a novel solution to help the millions of smokers who want to stop smoking and remain abstinent; a habit that is well documented to be very hard to stop permanently."

GSK cited research from the American Lung Association that relapse rates among smokers are as high as 90 per cent within a year of quitting.

Sales of the association's own range of anti-smoking patches, gums and products declined last year.

This year, American regulators ordered additional warnings on GSK's Zyban and Pfizer's Champix prescription smoking cessation drugs after concerns they triggered suicidal feelings. They have previously refused to authorise Sanofi-Aventis's rimonabant.

Companies with less advanced nicotine addiction vaccines in development include Cytos, Celtic Pharma and Independent Pharmaceutica.

Under the terms of the deal, Nabi will continue to fund the late-stage tests already under way, while GSK will support future tests and commercialisation if the results are promising, as well as combining its own and Nabi's intellectual property for next-generation vaccines.