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PharmAthene Battles Anthrax

By Andrea Caumont
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 14, 2005; Page E05

David P. Wright says his company is in the business of staying one step ahead of bioterrorists. "Once we find an answer for one pathogen, the terrorist will find something else," said Wright, chief executive of PharmAthene Inc., an Annapolis biotechnology company.

The anthrax attacks conducted through the mail in 2001 underscored the need for effective vaccines and treatments, he said, and PharmAthene is among the biotechnology companies concentrating on that challenge.

David P. Wright is chief executive of PharmAthene, an Annapolis firm developing products to combat anthrax bacteria and its toxins. (Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)


Name: PharmAthene Inc.

Location: Annapolis

Big idea: Developing countermeasures for bioterrorism, including treatments and vaccines for anthrax and other chemical toxins.

Founded: 2001

Web site: www.pharmathene.com

Who's in charge: David P. Wright, president and chief executive

Funding: PharmAthene received $13 million in seed money from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), raised $15 million in a first round from HealthCare Ventures, and raised $50 million in a second round from MPM Capital, Bear Stearns Health Innoventures and HealthCare Ventures.

Employees: 15. The company will add 56 employees when it completes its acquisition of Nexia Biotechnologies Inc.

Partners: PharmAthene is collaborating with Medarex Inc. to develop a monoclonal antibody called Valortim. The company has a relationships with DARPA, the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease, the University of Wisconsin's Alumni Research Foundation and the Salk Institute in San Diego. The company is also in a research collaboration partnership with the University of Maryland.

Origin of company name: "Athena is the goddess of warfare and the protectorate, so it's pharmaceutical protection against warfare," Wright said.

"Anthrax itself doesn't hurt you, but it produces toxins that do hurt you," Wright said An antibiotic like Cipro, which was widely used during the 2001 anthrax attacks, will kill the bacteria but cannot combat toxins already in the body.

PharmAthene is developing three products aimed at combating the anthrax bacteria and the toxins it produces, as well as other nerve agents or chemical toxins that might be used in a bioterrorism attack.

The company's ToxBlox is an anthrax therapeutic that it says can kill the bacteria and inhibit the toxins it produces. It also is intended to provide immune protection for about a month. ToxBlox uses dominant negative inhibitor (DNI) technology licensed by researchers at Harvard University. DNI is a mutated version of one of the proteins produced by the anthrax bacteria. When the mutated protein is combined with two other proteins produced by anthrax bacteria, it inactivates the anthrax toxin.

PharmAthene is also working with Medarex Inc., a Princeton, N.J., biotechnology company, to develop and market Valortim. Wright said Valortim can be used to prevent anthrax infection for a short time as well as to treat it. "An antibiotic is very good if you get it within a few hours after you're infected," Wright said. "With anthrax you don't always know you're infected -- you can be pretty sick before you know it."

Valortim would be given to first responders and anyone else who needed to go into an infected area. "It would provide the basis of treatment for everyone in the area," Wright said.

PharmAthene is also acquiring Canada's Nexia Biotechnologies Inc. and its product, Protexia, a post-exposure therapeutic for chemical nerve agents.

Wright said the company's ToxBlox product is already in human trials. He said he expects human trials on Valortim to begin in September and trials on Protexia to begin in June 2006. These products won't be available to the public for some time. "If push came to shove, we could move quickly, but in any case, it's six months to a year before these could be available," Wright said.

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