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J Appl Microbiol. 2006 Sep;101(3):594-606.

Past, imminent and future human medical countermeasures for anthrax.

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Biodefence Initiative, Medical Biotechnology Center, University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, Baltimore, 21201, USA.



Anthrax is caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Although primarily a disease of animals, it can also infect man, sometimes with fatal consequences. As a result of concerns over the illicit use of this organism, considerable effort is focussed on the development of therapies capable of conferring protection against anthrax. This brief review will describe the efforts being made to address these issues.


A review of the literature and the proceedings of the sixth international conference on anthrax, held in Santa Fe, USA in 2005 shows intense activity, but there has been as yet no real progress. While effective antibiotics, antitoxins and vaccines are available, concerns over their toxicity and the emergence of resistant strains have driven the development of second-generation products. The principal target for vaccine development is Protective Antigen (PA), the nontoxic cell-binding component of anthrax lethal toxin. While the recombinant products currently undergoing human clinical trials will offer considerable advantages in terms of reduced side effects and ease of production, they would still require multiple, needle-based dosing, and the inclusion of the adjuvant alum makes them expensive to administer and stockpile. To address these issues, researchers are developing vaccine formulations, which stimulate rapid protection following needle-free injection (nasal, oral or transcutaneous), and are stable at room temperature to facilitate stockpiling and mass vaccination programs.


An array of medical countermeasures targeting B. anthracis will become available over the next 5-10 years.


The huge investment of research dollars is expected to dramatically expand the knowledge base. A better understanding of basic issues, such as survival in nature and pathogenesis in humans, will facilitate the development of new modalities to eliminate the threat posed by this organism.

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