Ricin antidote to enter production

An anti-toxin that protects against ricin poisoning is to move into production for the first time, BBC News reported Nov. 11.

It is the result of eight years of work by researchers at the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory based in England.

The antidote can protect against death up to 24 hours after exposure, according to Dr. Jane Holley from DSTL.

Security experts say ricin — roughly 1,000 times more toxic than cyanide — could be used in a bioterrorism attack.

Holley told BBC News: "In the past there has been lots of research carried out using different methods. But this is the first [anti-toxin] that has been moved into production.

The principal scientist in biomedical sciences at DSTL added: "It is anticipated that a product will be available for use in the next couple of years."

Ricin is extracted from castor beans, which are processed throughout the world to make castor oil. The toxin is part of the waste "mash" produced when castor oil is made.

It can cause harm if injected, swallowed or inhaled. A tiny amount can be lethal, but the amount needed to kill depends on the route of administration.

A combination of pulmonary, liver, renal and immunological failure can lead to death, though people can recover from exposure.

Although the anti-toxin developed in England was initially intended for use by the military, DSTL scientists are investigating its potential use in a civilian environment.

Holley said that although the anti-toxin is ready to be manufactured, full licensing is likely to take about five years.