Breakthrough Could Lead to Anthrax Antidote

Using derivatives of a well-known antibiotic, researchers from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and The Scripps Research Institute have developed a basis for an antidote to anthrax. Published in the Dec. 28, 2004 international online edition of the journal Angewandte Chemie, the paper was deemed the editions "hot paper" by the publications editors.


Once it penetrates the body, the bacterium Bacillus anthracis releases toxins into the bloodstream, which in many cases causes death. The newly developed antibiotic neutralizes a key protein found in these toxins, even after they have already entered the bloodstream. Currently available antibiotics are ineffective against the toxins once they have entered the bloodstream.


The work, conducted by professor Timor Baasov of the Technion Faculty of Chemistry and professor Chi-Huey Wong of the Scripps Research Institute Department of Chemistry, focuses on a protein in anthrax known as "lethal factor." Of the three proteins that make up the anthrax toxins, the lethal factor is the one considered to be most responsible for fatal activity.


The researchers determined that the well-known antibiotic Neomycin B used for bacterial, intestinal and eye infections attaches to and inhibits the activity of the lethal factor. Using Neomycin B as a starting point, the scientists developed a new class of antibiotics that bind tightly to and deactivate the toxic protein. The teams findings were reached during in vitro tests.


These newly developed antibiotics also battle anthrax on a second front: they inhibit the ability of the bacteria to survive or multiply.


In nature, anthrax generally infects animals and not humans. However, developers of biological weapons have manipulated it and turned it into a dangerous tool of war. The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention of 1972 prohibits the use of anthrax because its dispersion in the population can cause massive fatalities. This, of course, is the reason terror organizations are attracted to using it.


"This is a revolutionary development of paramount importance in the war against terrorism," said Ehud Keinan, dean of the Technion Faculty of Chemistry. The researchers will now begin animal testing.


The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is Israel's leading science and technology university. Home to the countrys only winners of the Nobel Prize in science, it commands a worldwide reputation for its pioneering work in computer science, biotechnology, water-resource management, materials engineering, aerospace and medicine. The majority of the founders and managers of Israel's high-tech companies are alumni. Based in New York City, the American Technion Society is the leading American organization supporting higher education in Israel, with 17 offices around the country.


The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. is one of the world's largest, private, non-profit biomedical research organizations. It stands at the forefront of basic biomedical science that seeks to comprehend the most fundamental processes of life. Scripps Research is internationally recognized for its research into immunology, molecular and cellular biology, chemistry, neurosciences, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular diseases and synthetic vaccine development.