Biotech Will Develop Oral Smallpox Drug

Published Online: Saturday, November 1, 2003

    Chimerix, a small biotechnology company, will receive $36.1 million to develop CMX-001, a pill that could be used to treat and possibly guard against smallpox infection and give a possible alternative to a vaccine. Because there are no drugs approved to treat smallpox once a person has contracted it, the only countermeasure is vaccination to prevent infection.

    The grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases will extend over 4 1/2 years and cover the animal and human testing that will be needed for drug approval, according to company and government officials. So far, CMX-001 has been tested only in mice, and not against smallpox itself but against viruses similar to smallpox, said George Painter, chief executive of the San Diego (Calif)?based Chimerix. Because these early studies suggest that the drug could be effective if administered within 3 days before or after exposure to the virus, it could be given to people as a protection in a smallpox outbreak or attack.

    CMX-001 is a version of cidofovir (from Gilead Sciences), a drug approved to treat viral eye infections in people with AIDS. Studies in cells and animals have indicated that cidofovir also is effective against pox viruses, including smallpox.

    Cidofovir takes hours to administer because it must be taken intravenously, and physicians must take precautions to avoid kidney damage in patients who take it. Therefore, Chimerix is developing a version of cidofovir that can be taken orally. It is hoped that the drug will have less kidney toxicity than cidofovir.

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