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HEALTH

The pharmaceutical industry is developing 256 drugs and
vaccines to target infectious diseases ranging from hepatitis
to influenza, according to a survey to be released Wednesday
by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of
America.


Infectious diseases were responsible for nearly one-third of
all worldwide deaths in 1996, the survey said. AIDS is a
major contributor to the death toll, but those drugs were
considered a separate category and not included in the
survey. The industry has 98 drugs in development to fight
the disease.

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Vaccines are the focus of the most attention, the study
found, with 96 under development for a broad range of
diseases. The survey said there are 32 new antibiotics are
under development. Of the total agents being developed, 69
are being tested in the lab while the remaining 187 are in
either clinical trials or awaiting approval by the FDA
Hepatitis, tuberculosis and malaria all are prevalent in the
developing world, however hepatitis is a greater focus of
pharmaceutical research because it is also a significant
problem in the United States. About 5 million people in the
United States suffer from a form of hepatitis.


Agents for sexually transmitted diseases, antibiotics and
antivirals also are major focuses of company research, the
study showed.


Diseases such as anthrax and smallpox have become a major
concerns since Sept. 11 and the subsequent anthrax attacks.
The survey, however, was largely conducted before the
attacks and so is not a useful barometer of the industry’s
attention to such diseases.


In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist and anthrax
attacks, pharmaceutical companies offered to donate drugs
and allow their scientists to use their labs for government
work. Some asked the Food and Drug Administration to
approve their antibiotics as a treatment for anthrax.


Last week, Aventis donated a recently discovered reserve of
smallpox vaccine to the government. But beyond that there
have been no high-profile announcements of collaborations
between industry and government.


Dr. Michael Friedman, a Pharmacia Corp. executive acting
as a liaison between the companies and the government in
strengthening the country’s bioterrorism defense, says the
industry will announce a major educational campaign about
bioterrorism next week. He declined to provide specifics.


“Until recently there was not much attention paid to
bioterrorism,” said Dr. Friedman. “Companies are in the
process of planning right now. Targets are being identified.”
Eli Lilly & Co. is testing one of its cancer drugs as a
smallpox treatment. The move came after sending samples
of several of its medicines to the government for testing as
potential candidates to target bioterrorism threats.


Lilly said it hasn’t changed the overall focus of its research,
but now when it tests potential antibiotics or antivirals it
broadens the scope.


“Now we have more of a dual strategy. When we look at
compounds we think maybe it will be an effective agent
against a disease on the CDC (Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention list of bioterrorism diseases,” said Gail
Cassel, vice president of infectious disease research at
Indianapolis-based Lilly.


But Cassel and Friedman agree that companies must
continue to develop new antibiotics because resistance is a
major problem.


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