DoD to fund research into anti-botulism drugs

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory and Stony Brook University's Institute of Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery have been selected to received Department of Defense research funds to develop anti-botulism drugs.

The $1.4 million in funds come from the Department of Defense's Defense Threat Reduction Agency and will be used to develop drugs to block the paralytic and deadly effects of botulinum neurotoxins.

“There are currently no reliable treatments for botulinum toxin exposure,” Brookhaven biologist Subramanyam Swaminathan, who leads the collaborative effort, told “It is important to develop a drug that combats the neurotoxic effects to mitigate fears associated with this deadly poison, including the fear of its potential use in bioterrorism attacks.”

Botulinum toxins are the most potent neurotoxins known to man and are classified as extremely dangerous due to their potential to be used as a large-scale bioterrorism agent.

The current treatment for botulinum toxin exposure is only effective when administered prior to the toxin infiltrating target cells. This critical time to administer treatment often passes before a diagnosis can be made.

There are seven different strains, or serotypes, of botulinum toxin. Four of these strains affect humans. The project aims to develop a single drug for all four strains.

“When inflicted by the neurotoxin, you don’t know which serotype you were infected with,” Swaminathan said. “Finding one common drug is useful because otherwise the specific serotype would need to be identified before treatment.”