NCI funds $3.1M Fred Hutch clinical trial of a smoking-cessation smartphone app

First such study to compare effectiveness of quit-smoking programs delivered via mobile apps
Dr. Jonathan Bricker
Jonathan Bricker, Ph.D., a behavioral scientist at Fred Hutch and UW, is principal investigator of the SmartQuit study. Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

SEATTLE – June 19, 2015 – Jonathan Bricker, Ph.D., a behavioral scientist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington, has received a $3.1 million, five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute to conduct a randomized, controlled clinical trial of SmartQuit, a smoking-cessation smartphone app.

The new trial follows on the heels of a pilot randomized trial of SmartQuit he conducted in collaboration with UW and 2Morrow Mobile – the first randomized, controlled trial comparing the effectiveness of smoking-cessation programs delivered via mobile apps.

“The funding gives us an amazing opportunity to update our SmartQuit app with state-of-the-art computer science and psychology technologies closely informed by several years of research we have done on prior versions of the app,” Bricker said. Following these key updates, Bricker plans to launch a large-scale, nationwide, randomized controlled study of SmartQuit next year. This new study, which will involve more than 1,600 adult smokers, will compare Bricker’s app with an app that follows the U.S. Clinical Practice Guidelines.

Bricker studies acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT, to help people quit smoking and other unhealthy behaviors. Unlike traditional quit-smoking approaches, which focus on willpower and avoiding one’s urges to smoke, ACT focuses on increasing one’s willingness to accept the physical, mental and emotional challenges of quitting while also encouraging commitment to engage in values-based behavior change. For more about ACT, see his TEDxRainier talk.

The goal of this new study, Bricker says, is to definitively determine whether an ACT-based app is effective for smoking cessation. Along with collaboration from the Fred Hutch’s Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research group, the study will also test the cost-effectiveness of the ACT app. 

“These are exciting times in the mobile health space,” he said. “There is a wide chasm between what is available on the market … and what is actually proven to work,” he said. “We feel very fortunate to lead these efforts to impact the science of mobile health and address the critical need for low-cost, high-impact smoking-cessation programming.”

The pilot study that made this larger clinical trial possible was funded by the Hartwell Innovation Fund, a philanthropy initiative established by Dr. Lee Hartwell, Fred Hutch president and director emeritus. The mission of this translational research fund is to support “innovative and high-risk, high-reward activities that may be difficult to fund through government grants or that need immediate support.”

“We took a philanthropy-funded grant of $140,000 and in less than three years turned it into a $3.1 million grant. That is more than a 2,200 percent return on investment,” Bricker said. “Now, with this federal funding to continue the work, we have an opportunity to make a huge impact on saving lives and reducing the number of smokers in the world.”

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At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home to three Nobel laureates, interdisciplinary teams of world-renowned scientists seek new and innovative ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other life-threatening diseases. Fred Hutch’s pioneering work in bone marrow transplantation led to the development of immunotherapy, which harnesses the power of the immune system to treat cancer. An independent, nonprofit research institute based in Seattle, Fred Hutch houses the nation’s first National Cancer Institute-funded cancer prevention research program, as well as the clinical coordinating center of the Women’s Health Initiative and the international headquarters of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network.

Molly McElroy
206.667.6651 (desk)