Pandora Report 3.28.15

This week we’re covering a new treatment for inhalation anthrax, Russian nuclear threats, chlorine accelerating antibiotic resistance and other stories you may have missed.

Have a great week and see you back here next weekend!

FDA Approves Emergent BioSolutions’ Inhaled Anthrax Treatment

Considered one of the most likely agents to be used in biological warfare, Anthrax now has a new enemy—Anthrasil. This treatment, developed by Emergent BioSolutions Inc., neutralizes toxins of Bacillus anthracis and requires only two doses to confer immunity, versus the three of BioThrax (the current treatment for inhaled anthrax).

Reuters—“The company developed the treatment, Anthrasil, as part of a $160 million contract it signed in 2005 with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a part of the HHS. Anthrasil, which is approved in combination with other antibacterials, is already being stored in the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile, the company said on Wednesday. The drug is made using plasma from healthy, screened donors who have been immunized with Emergent Bio’s Anthrax vaccine, BioThrax, the only FDA-licensed vaccine for the disease. Anthrasil has an orphan drug designation and qualifies for seven years of market exclusivity.”

Russia Threatens to Aim Nuclear Missiles at Denmark Ships if it Joins NATO Shield

Denmark has said that in August it will contribute radar capacity on some of its warships to NATO’s missile defense system. Russia has now threatened to aim nuclear missiles at Danish warships if Copenhagen goes through with its actions. Moscow opposes the system arguing that it reduces the effectiveness of the Russian nuclear arsenal and could lead to a new Cold War-style arms race.

The World Post—“‘We have made clear that NATO’s ballistic missile defense is not directed at Russia or any country, but is meant to defend against missile threats. This decision was taken a long time ago, so we are surprised at the timing, tone and content of the statements made by Russia’s ambassador to Denmark,” [NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu] said. “Such statements do not inspire confidence or contribute to predictability, peace or stability.’”

Chlorine Treatment Can Accelerate Antibiotic Resistance, Study Says

Research presented at the American Chemical Society meeting last week shows that chlorine treatment of wastewater may actually encourage the formation of new antibiotics—rather than eliminating the drug residues. While scientists are looking for new antibiotics, this isn’t good news. ACS says that upon re-entering the environment, the new drugs—in theory—can promote the growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria. In a test, doxycycline was exposed to chlorine; the results are described below.

Gizmodo—“The study evaluated the changes in the antibacterial activity of the products that form in the reaction between doxycycline and chlorine using antibiotic resistance assays. The results showed that some of the transformation products have antibiotic properties. The products of chlorination were also examined…and several chlorinated products were detected. These transformation products may still select for antibiotic resistant micro-organisms in the environment even in the absence of the parent doxycycline molecule. This suggests that re-evaluation of wastewater disinfection practices may be needed.”

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Islamic State Goes Old School

By Erik Goepner

Recent reports suggest that IS has employed chlorine as a weapon.  Though currently unconfirmed, these reports suggest that IS is looking to bolster its inventory of tactics, techniques and procedures. In so doing, they’ve gone old school.

IS’ first use of chlorine as a weapon may have been in September against Iraqi security forces and Shiite militias north of Baghdad.  Reports indicate the chlorine was delivered via bombs.  No one died, but approximately 40 reported difficulty breathing and heavy coughing.  One source said IS had taken the chlorine from purification plants overtaken during their advance.

Additional reports suggest that IS employed toxic gas in Kobani on October 21. Patients reportedly sought medical care for trouble breathing, burning eyes, and blisters.  A doctor on-scene ruled out chlorine as the cause, while assessing the injuries as consistent with exposure to an as-of-yet unidentified chemical.  The Guardian noted, however, there was no consensus or confidence from experts regarding potential causes of these injuries.

Five days later, an Iraqi military commander said seven chlorine filled projectiles were fired into a residential area of Anbar province, though no casualties were reported.

According to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), though, this is not new.  The implementing body of the Chemical Weapons Convention reported chlorine was already used “systematically and repeatedly” in northern Syrian villages earlier this year.  Western government officials assert Assad’s forces had employed the chlorine, though it is unclear if other groups may also have been responsible.

Historically, perhaps the most heinous and deadly precedent for chlorine-as-weapon comes from World War I, when the Germans dispersed 168 tons of chlorine during the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium.   Approximately half of the 10,000 allied soldiers in the affected area died.  Two days later, chlorine was again used, killing an additional 1,000 Allied service members.

What might the future hold?  The Nuclear Threat Initiative, writing in 2007 about chemical weapon fears in Iraq, noted that the worst industrial accident in history was the release of 40 metric tons of methyl isocyanate at a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India.  3,000 were killed and more than 100,000 were injured.  The author concluded that a “sufficiently large release of elemental chlorine may be capable of exacting a comparable toll, particularly if discharged in a highly populated civilian area.”  However, the author also noted chlorine is typically ineffective against a “prepared adversary” because its visible color and potent odor announce its arrival and the effects of chlorine can be mitigated with “simple countermeasures,” such as gas masks or wet cloths placed across the nose and mouth.

Image Credit: Stripes