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Feds award Elusys $69 million to develop anthrax drug

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An anthrax-laced envelope mailed to former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw in 2001. (Credit: FBI)
An anthrax-laced envelope mailed to former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw in 2001. (Credit: FBI) - ()

A Pine Brook-based biotech firm has scored a new government contract to find out whether its anthrax anti-toxin will work as a preventative treatment.

Elusys Therapeutics Inc. said last week it has been awarded a new five-year, $68.9 million federal contract to develop its Anthim anthrax anti-toxin for use as a prophylactic administered by intramuscular injection.

Elizabeth Posillico, president and CEO of Elusys, said the contract marks a second indication for the drug.

Last year, the company was awarded a separate five-year, $143 million contract to develop Anthim as an IV-administered drug for patients already showing symptoms of anthrax exposure. The new contract will allow the company to test the drug's usefulness as a preventative measure when given to a patient either before anthrax exposure or after suspected exposure but before symptoms arise.

Anthrax is a life-threatening infectious disease considered a top bio-warfare threat by the government. In the weeks following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, letters laced with anthrax and mailed to lawmakers and members of the media killed five people and sickened 17.

Importantly, the prophylactic version of the drug would be administered by intramuscular injection, allowing it to be administered more quickly and easily than the IV version.

"I think the (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) has come to realize that if you really have a real attack and hundreds of people are presumed exposed, you would just max out all the hospital facilities fast," she said.

The intramuscular injection wouldn't have to be administered by a doctor, or even in a hospital setting.

Additionally, unlike other drugs currently on the market, Posillico said Anthim has the advantage of being effective no matter when it's administered.

"Different anthrax drugs work differently depending on where you are in the infectious process," she said. "Ours is quite good throughout the process."

The new contract will fund animal efficacy tests and human safety tests on the drug, which requires only a single dose.

In a recent animal study, the company said, the intramuscular version of the drug showed a 92 percent survival rate when administered within 18 hours of exposure.

If all goes according to plan, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could purchase Anthim for the government's Strategic National Stockpile of emergency medical countermeasures.

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