Problems with new anthrax antidote

Published 28 October 2005

One of the major elements of Biosheild, the U.S. government program to defend U.S. citizens against bioterrorism, is the effort to encourage pharmaceutical companies to produce vaccines and antidotes to biological weapons. A major element of that effort is the protection from legal action Congress is offering these companies in case something goes wrong with the new vaccines and antidotes. There is reason for this: An anthrax treatment under development by the U.S. government could cause serious and even fatal complications, UPI reports. Anthrax immune globulin (AIG) is being developed as a possible response to a bioterror attack. Mortality from the anthrax letters attack in 2001 was 45 percent. Preliminary animal studies by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that AIG can protect against anthrax before exposure. They also found, however, that AIG does not protect if it is given after infection — and can be deadly itself if it is improperly formulated. Dr. Meryl Nass, an anthrax expert and a physician in Bar Harbor, Maine, said she would become concerned if officials tried to use it on an emergency basis in the event of another anthrax attack. “Obviously they can’t use this stuff,” she told UPI. “It might kill people.”

Some AIG already may have been placed in the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile for emergency use, but at least one expert warned that the research data shows the compound does not appear to be effective and actually could kill people. CDC initiated the animal studies last year, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently awarded a contract to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada-based Cangene for approximately $428,000 to supply 10 grams of AIG for further testing. HHS researchers have been given a year to finish the studies and decide if the government should order up to 100,000 doses.

-read more in this detailed ScienceDaily report