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Br J Pharmacol. 2010 Oct;161(4):721-48. doi: 10.1111/j.1476-5381.2010.00939.x.

Principles of antidote pharmacology: an update on prophylaxis, post-exposure treatment recommendations and research initiatives for biological agents.

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  • 1Defence Science & Technology Organisation, Human Protection and Performance Division, Fishermans Bend, Vic., Australia.


The use of biological agents has generally been confined to military-led conflicts. However, there has been an increase in non-state-based terrorism, including the use of asymmetric warfare, such as biological agents in the past few decades. Thus, it is becoming increasingly important to consider strategies for preventing and preparing for attacks by insurgents, such as the development of pre- and post-exposure medical countermeasures. There are a wide range of prophylactics and treatments being investigated to combat the effects of biological agents. These include antibiotics (for both conventional and unconventional use), antibodies, anti-virals, immunomodulators, nucleic acids (analogues, antisense, ribozymes and DNAzymes), bacteriophage therapy and micro-encapsulation. While vaccines are commercially available for the prevention of anthrax, cholera, plague, Q fever and smallpox, there are no licensed vaccines available for use in the case of botulinum toxins, viral encephalitis, melioidosis or ricin. Antibiotics are still recommended as the mainstay treatment following exposure to anthrax, plague, Q fever and melioidosis. Anti-toxin therapy and anti-virals may be used in the case of botulinum toxins or smallpox respectively. However, supportive care is the only, or mainstay, post-exposure treatment for cholera, viral encephalitis and ricin - a recommendation that has not changed in decades. Indeed, with the difficulty that antibiotic resistance poses, the development and further evaluation of techniques and atypical pharmaceuticals are fundamental to the development of prophylaxis and post-exposure treatment options. The aim of this review is to present an update on prophylaxis and post-exposure treatment recommendations and research initiatives for biological agents in the open literature from 2007 to 2009.

© 2010 The Commonwealth of Australia. British Journal of Pharmacology © 2010 The British Pharmacological Society.

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