British American Tobacco has ended a contract with a biotechnology firm doing nicotine science with ties to the Piedmont.

22nd Century Group had been working with BAT for four years on what's known as “low-nicotine cigarettes.” Those are combustible smokes that contain potentially 95 percent less of the addictive substance than a typical cigarette.

In a statement, British American says it has an active nicotine research program, and is working on new projects with third party contractors.

“The conclusion of our work with 22nd Century does not change our commitment to R&D in nicotine science,” a BAT spokesperson said.

For its part, 22nd Century Group – a plant biotech firm which has about 70 workers at a facility in Mocksville – says it's happy to be free of the deal. A statement from the company suggested that the contract with British American capped royalties and limited what other clients the smaller firm could work with.

With the deal nullified, 22nd Century Group spokesman Jim Vail says the company is actively pursuing new partners. He's also optimistic about the future – with or without British American.

“Years from now, who will be looking at it as ‘the one that got away?'” Vail says. “Will 22nd Century Group be going ‘wow, I can't believe we let BAT get away,' or will BAT be looking at 22nd Century Group and saying ‘wow, I can't believe we let them get away?'”

Some of that optimism comes from a recent FDA announcement that it wants to reduce the amount of nicotine in cigarettes, though actual regulations are still forthcoming.

Because of the research 22nd Century Group does and the company's ability to create both low- and high-nicotine products, Vail says the company is well prepared for whatever regulators and consumers may demand.

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