Canadian Government Invests Millions to Develop Anti-Anthrax Inhaler

OTTAWA (CP) - Defence officials have signed a $2.9-million deal with a U.S. firm to develop an anti-anthrax inhaler that could be available for civilian as well as military use.

Aradigm Corp. of California will spend the next few years developing and testing a puffer to counter the effects of anthrax and other biological warfare agents.

The inhaler, conceived by Defence Department researchers, will contain the powerful antibiotic ciproflaxacin.

``The initial target population was military use,'' said Maj. Don Van Loon, a bio-science officer.

``However, this is a drug product that will have dual-use potential.''

That means the new technology could be used to administer other drugs. The anthrax form will be commercially available to the public if there is a demand for it.

Military researchers have worked on the project since before 9-11 and the subsequent fears of biological, chemical or nuclear attacks.

Aradigm Corp. and others will retain most rights to the technology, but Defence could stand to profit from it.

The current treatment for airborne anthrax exposure is oral ciproflaxacin.

``We believe that this . . . version will have an enhanced treatment effect,'' Van Loon said. ``So it is making available to the medical community a potentially better drug.''

Van Loon is managing two other similar projects at Defence Research and Development Canada _ one an antidote to a nerve agent and the other a potential vaccine against brucella, for which there is currently no vaccine.

Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by spore-forming bacterium. Symptoms from its inhaled form at first resemble a common cold, but within days they can progress to severe breathing problems, shock and ultimately death.

There is a vaccine, which is reportedly 93 per cent effective.

Anthrax became a concern in the months after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington when envelopes containing traces of anthrax powder turned up in offices in the United States.

Aradigm, which specializes in the delivery system and the formulations, will use some technology developed by Inex Pharmaceuticals Corp. and Northern Lipids, both of Vancouver.

Aradigm is currently working on treatments for neurological disorders, heart disease, respiratory conditions and cancer.

Once the technical work on the mechanics of the device is done, in about two years, the company will start clinical trials at a containment facility using anthrax and animal test subjects, probably mice.