Time to develop new antidotes for chemical attacks, urge researchersNovember 18, 2004
New antidotes for organophosphates are needed to prepare for chemical attacks in the West and to tackle pesticide poisoning in developing countries, argue researchers in this week's BMJ.
Organophosphates are a group of organic compounds containing phosphorus, some of which are used as pesticides. Organophosphates have also been used in chemical weapons and nerve gas attacks, such as the sarin attack in Japan.
Organophosphate poisoning is a leading cause of premature death in the developing world, while Western nations are concerned about terrorist use of chemicals. Yet no new antidotes have been tested in clinical trials in the last 30 years. An international collaboration is needed to make a concerted effort to develop and test new treatments that would benefit both groups of patients, write the authors.
Atropine is currently the only clearly proved and moderately effective treatment for organophosphate poisoning. Information on potential treatments has been available for years, but neither the military nor the pharmaceutical industry has attempted to test them or develop new drugs.
The pharmaceutical industry has little incentive to develop new drugs for use primarily in developing countries, add the authors. However, on humanitarian grounds alone, research into organophosphate pesticide poisoning in developing countries should become an international priority.
Recent concerns by government about having the means to respond to victims of chemical warfare and terrorist attacks means that the time is ripe to break this drug development impasse, they conclude.
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