DRUG DISCOVERY AND BIODEFENSE
The search for a new medicine to combat the pestilence of a pathogen requires major research effort and significant financial investment. Furthermore, it involves a calculated risk—of several thousand compounds with antitoxin properties, typically only a handful will reach the point where they are considered suitable for testing on human patients, and maybe only one of these will ever be approved for patient use. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for a drug that has gained general acceptance and is in widespread use to be pulled off the market because of harmful side effects on a significant minority of users.5
For infectious diseases that could be spread by bioterrorists, the medicinal needs could be very pressing. The threat of a high death toll might induce the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to tolerate a less than perfect drug. Nevertheless, the time it takes to develop a medicine to counteract a microorganism for which no treatment is known must still be measured in years. It seems clear that many toxins of bacterial, viral, or chemical origin that are available to bioterrorists can be confronted only with new drugs. If we are to survive in these tumultuous times, a way must be found to develop and distribute new medicines more rapidly, especially to counter the class of toxins that are most likely to serve as weapons for bioterrorists.
An investigation invariably starts with tissue samples obtained from victims in an attack zone with brief details of the victims’ ages and sex. The disease-causing agent in each sample must be identified, and the effective drugs must be found to neutralize or destroy it without harming the infected individual. The next step is to find a means for mass production of an effective counteragent.