BIOTECH company Evotec, which employs 200 people at its Oxfordshire laboratories, is to test a new drug to help people give up smoking.

The clinical trial involves 90 volunteer smokers, who will randomly receive either the drug, nicotine or a placebo while being deprived of cigarettes for a short time.

The trial will assess whether the drug - called EVT 302 - helps craving and withdrawal symptoms.

The effect on craving when combined with nicotine replacement therapy will be also assessed, as well as safety and tolerability. The results are expected to be reported by the end of the year.

Dr John Kemp, chief research and development officer at Evotec, said: "Evotec is extremely proud to have progressed its second drug candidate into Phase II clinical trials.

"I am extremely pleased with the safety and tolerability profile of EVT 302 in young and elderly subjects emerging from Phase I studies and look forward to continued progress with this compound."

This is one of two trials planned this year. The second study, accessing the impact of the drug on the quit rate of heavy smokers withdrawing from cigarettes, is expected to start in mid-2008.