PharmAthene and Medarex receive DoD grant for anthrax treatment

Published 20 October 2006

Unlike antibiotics, the companies’ monoclonal antibody approach should be effective days after exposure; an effective attack will be surreptitious, so the need for long-term treatment is great

The story of the search for an effective anthrax vaccine is no doubt familiar to most of our readers. We have also reported frequently about interesting ways to prevent inhalation of anthrax, including a nanotechnology that binds the spores to sugar molecules. Less well known, however, are intriguing new efforts to treat anthrax infection after exposure, which is why we were pleased to hear that researchers at Annapolis, Maryland-based PharmAthene and Princeton, New Jersey-based Medarex had received a $1 million grant from the Department of Defense to fund research into Valortim, a human monoclonal antibody.

At present the traditional method of treating anthrax inhalation is with antibiotics. The approach can be effective if initiated immediately after infection, but as the disease progresses antibiotics are less successful. “What we’re developing is a product — and we’ve tested it in animals — that can be given after symptoms appear. We expect our product to have efficacy at the point at which antibiotics are no longer effective,” said Stacey Jurchison of PharmAthene. The companies have recently completed a successful Phase 1 round of testing, and the DoD grant will help them move forward with more comprehensive evaluations.

While it is too early to tell if Valortim will be the panacea we are all looking for, we applaud PharmAthene and Medarex for thinking outside the box. A successful anthrax attack will likely be unobtrusive, meaning that many victims will not likely know they have been exposed until it is too late for antibiotic treatment. A number of those who died in the 2001 attacks here in the U.S. were unfortunate in this way. Yes, we need a reliable vaccine, but effective post-exposure treatments are just as important and deserve all the support the government can muster. $1 million is not a lot, but it is a start.

-read more in this news release