The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a drug that will prevent and treat inhalational anthrax during its later stages. Until now, the disease could be successfully treated only if detected during its earlier stages, but the new drug can be used to treat the disease at any stage of progression.
Three faculty members from the University of Texas at Austin were involved in the research team that made the treatment 20 times more potent. The potency was licensed to the pharmaceutical company Elusys Therapeutics, which further developed the drug.
Anthrax spores are spread through the air and are highly resistant to destruction, making the bacteria an attractive weapon for potential bioterrorists. Once spores are inhaled, the bacteria replicates within the body, producing toxins that can lead to irreversible tissue damage and death. In the U.S., 15 people were infected, and five died, from anthrax in the weeks following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. The U.S. government has contracted with Elusys to stockpile the drug, Anthim, to treat possible future outbreaks.
UT Austin Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Professor in the Department of Chemistry Brent Iverson said that many people might not realize that education and research, as they did over the course of the development of Anthim, go hand-in-hand.
One of the researchers, Associate Professor Jennifer Maynard, started working on the antibody as a graduate student.
“Number one, we develop new technologies that allow us to solve this problem in a new way. And we do that very quickly," Maynard said. "Number two, we train the next generation of scientists.”
Iverson said that their contribution to the drug did not involve the use of anthrax. There was never live or dangerous anthrax on UT campus or in Austin.