August 7, 2006

Alzheimer’s drug may be poison antidote

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An Alzheimer's pill that helps slow
the brain damage caused by the disease may also protect against
the effects of nerve gases and pesticides, U.S. researchers
reported on Monday.

They said the drug, marketed under the name Reminyl and
Razadyne, completely protected guinea pigs against the nerve
agents soman and sarin, as well as toxic amounts of pesticides.

They gave the animals high doses of the poisons and treated
them with Reminyl, known generically as galantamine, along with
atropine, often given as an antidote for organophospate
pesticides such as paraoxon.

"To our amazement, the animals treated with galantamine
behaved as if they had not been exposed to these lethal
agents," Dr. Edson Albuquerque, chairman of the Department of
Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics at the University of
Maryland School of Medicine, said in a statement.

The guinea pigs, all of them male, survived with no
apparent ill effects, Albuquerque said, and the galantamine
protected the animals with or without atropine.

"I think maybe we have something that can protect us
against bad terrorists," he said in a telephone interview,
adding that the next step was to test female guinea pigs.

Albuquerque said he has tested other drugs in the same
class as Reminyl, and they do not have the same effects.

"The only medication currently approved by the Food and
Drug Administration to prevent the catastrophic effects of
nerve agent poisoning does not protect the brain," Albuquerque
said. "This medication, pyridostigmine, doesn't effectively
cross the blood-brain barrier."

The blood-brain barrier is made up of cells that stop
certain molecules from getting into the brain.

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences, Albuquerque and colleagues at the U.S. Army Medical
Research Institute of Chemical Defense and the Army Medical
Research and Materiel Command, both in Maryland, said their
research could benefit farm workers and soldiers.

"This simple and safe antidotal therapy could be added to
the arsenal of medications carried by all military members and
first responders, who could easily administer it to themselves
should they suspect that they've been exposed to a nerve
agent," Albuquerque said.

The drug is made by Britain's Shire Pharmaceuticals and
licensed outside Britain to Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, a unit of
Johnson & Johnson.