Company to begin human testing of anthrax drug

Thursday, June 26, 2003

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- A biotechnology company said Wednesday it will soon start human tests of an anthrax drug that blocks the toxins released by the deadly bacteria.

The drug, made by Human Genome Sciences Inc., is envisioned as both protection against exposure to the bacteria and a last-ditch treatment for those who have been infected and are not responding to antibiotics.

Anthrax killed five people and sickened 17 when it was sent through the mail two years ago.

Currently, doctors can offer patients an anthrax vaccine before they are exposed that can keep them from becoming infected in the first place. And antibiotics can kill the bacteria once a person is infected.

But antibiotics often are ineffective at saving patients once the toxin has made it into bloodstream.

Chief executive William Haseltine said the company will go forward with mass production of ABthrax only if the government agrees to buy the drug.

He predicted the drug could be ready for sale by the end of 2004.

Human Genome Sciences started work on ABthrax shortly after anthrax-laced letters were sent to Capitol Hill in the fall of 2001.

Haseltine said ABthrax has proved effective in tests on primates and rabbits exposed to lethal doses of anthrax.

Because it would be unethical to deliberately expose people to anthrax, Human Genome Science's human experiments will only test the drug's safety.

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