First ricin antidote moves into production phase

Scientists at the British government and military park Porton Down have announced the development of an antidote to the poison ricin that they say is ready to be manufactured.

The breakthrough antidote comes after eight years of work at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. The antidote, Dr. Jane Holley, principal scientist in biomedical sciences said, will protect against death for up to 24 hours after exposure to the poison.

Ricin is 1,000 times more toxic than cyanide. The U.S. Center for Disease Control estimates that 500 micrograms, or about half a grain, of ricin would be lethal if injected or inhaled. Fears have recently been raised that ricin could be used in a bioterror attack.

The new anti-toxin is the first ricin anti-toxin to move into the production phase despite years of research. The antidote was originally intended for military use but a potential use in a civilian environment is also being investigated.

Production of the antidote involves the immunization of sheep with an inactive form of ricin, causing the sheep to produce antibodies, which are then harvested to produce a freeze-dried antidote that can then be reconstituted with water for injection into the body.

Dr. Holley expects that full licensing of the product is likely to take about five years.