Friday, November 17, 2006

THERE CAN NEVER BE ENOUGH MONEY SPENT ON POTENTIAL SARIN ANTIDOTES: Public health not so important

Continuing this week's riff, Get Sarin Cheap in the Third World, DD brings you yet another company attached to the teat of biochemical terror funding.

PharmAthene, a company located in Annapolis, is into the pocketbook for over $200 million dollars for its sarin cure, Protexia.

"The funding announced today [$1.7 million] from the NIH, in addition to a recently announced contract from the Department of Defense, which provides up to $213 million in funding for advanced development of Protexia across multiple indications, offers important validation for Protexia and our Company's biodefense capabilities," reads a company press release.

"We look forward to rapidly advancing the development of Protexia to meet the urgent biosecurity needs of our Nation and Allies."

That's Nation, with a big N. And Company and Allies -- proper names.

Protexia is a recombinant protein and although the company says it will be cheap, if it ever actually works as advertised, "cheap" is a purely relative term, as in -- somewhat less expensive than what it costs to currently produce vanishingly small quantities. No such medicines are cheap and the firm will depend upon the US government to buy and stockpile the theoretical future nostrum.

The reader knows that PharmAthene is not the only company working on sarin antidotes. Ohio State University is researching proteins produced by algae and universities in Arizona are also into the line of work.

To contrast sarin spending with public health, today DD jumps to an article from the Los Angeles Times, "Pesticide use rises, but farms shift to less harmful varieties."

The story was essentially about use of organophosphate compounds employed in California agriculture. Sarin is an organophosphate also but far too toxic to use as a pesticide, contrary to the belief of the clowning terror beat business reporter at an Arizona newspaper.

"Many insecticides, herbicides and other pest-killing chemicals have been linked to cancer, neurological damage, birth defects or other reproductive effects," wrote the Los Angeles Times today.

"The greatest risk is for farmworkers, but some chemicals drift off fields, exposing neighbors."

And when the Los Angeles Times writes farmworkers, readers know it to mean illegal aliens and immigrants, people with generally no or totally inadequate access to health care, let alone cures to organophosphate poisoning. Because of the nature of the industry and its labor force in California, acute organophophate poisoning is apparently difficult to track.

Materials on-line at CDC-NIOSH do shed light on the matter, suggesting in one 2001 national report, California reported over 340 cases for the year 1999.

But back to the Los Angeles Times.

While the state has reported that use of the most harmful pesticides are down, this is a purely relative term, too.

" . . . Telone, or 1,3-dichloropropene [a toxic alternative to very toxic organophosphates] is increasing at a fairly alarming rate . . . more than 9 million pounds were used in California in 2005, much of it on almonds, grapes, strawberries and carrots," reports the newspaper.

It has replaced methyl bromide, another organophosphate, "that is a potent neurotoxin and has been phased out under an international treaty because it depletes the ozone layer."

Telone, writes the paper, "has been linked to various cancers in animals and leukemia and lymphoma in highly exposed humans. It was banned statewide in 1990 because of high concentrations in Merced County air, then returned to use with new restrictions in 1995 . . ."

"While the growth in less toxic pesticides is an important move into the future," said a scientist to the newspaper, "some very toxic, very drift-prone chemicals are used in California in large, increasing volumes."

There was no comment in the newspaper article on the amount spent for health care in exposed farmworkers per year. It contrasts sharply with gleeful reports on the amount of money spent on potential sarin cures in pursuit of the war on terror.

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