Experts call for new chemical attack antidotes

Manchester Online
Friday, 19th November 2004

SCIENTISTS need to develop new antidotes to prepare for possible terrorist chemical attacks in the West, researchers urged today.

The antidotes are also needed to tackle pesticide poisoning in developing countries where it is a leading cause of premature death, according to the study in the British Medical Journal.

But despite the severity of the situation, neither the pharmaceutical industry nor the military have attempted to test new remedies to deal with the danger from organophosphates, according to experts from Canberra Hospital in Australia.

Organophosphates are used in some pesticides, but have also been used in chemical weapons and nerve gas attacks, such as the sarin attack in Japan.

But despite the concerns, no new antidotes have been tested in clinical trials in the last 30 years.

The current treatment involves giving victims atropine and benzodiazepines, but these are only moderately effective.

“Newer, more effective antidotes are needed,” the researchers said.

“The currently recommended antidotes are the tip of a therapeutic iceberg that could be mobilised.”

The researchers said animal studies had revealed the potential for new treatments.

“Information on these potential treatments has been available for years, but neither the military nor the pharmaceutical industry has attempted to test them or develop new drugs,” they said.

The researchers pointed out that every year hundreds of thousands of people were dying from pesticide poisoning in the world’s poorest countries.

“The pharmaceutical industry has little incentive to develop new drugs for use primarily in developing countries.

“However, on humanitarian grounds alone, research into organophosphate pesticide poisoning in developing countries should become an international priority,” the researchers added.

They also said that given government concerns about having the means to respond to victims of chemical warfare and terrorist attacks “the time is ripe to break this drug development impasse”.

Copyright 2004