Bioterrorism
5:12 pm
Thu April 4, 2013

SLU To Test Cancer Drugs Against Potential Biological Threat

Soldiers participate in HAZMAT training in Alaska.
Soldiers participate in HAZMAT training in Alaska.
Credit Flickr/California National Guard

Saint Louis University is launching a study to explore whether two cancer medications could also help protect U.S. troops from bioterrorism attacks.

SLU is part of a consortium of institutions participating in the project, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.

SLU virologist Mark Buller says the consortium will test the cancer medications Gleevec and Tasigna against a wide range of viruses, from dengue to Ebola.

"There's a prophylactic approach where you give the drug before infection, and then there's a therapeutic approach where you give the drug after infection, and both of those are valuable,” Buller says. “So we will test the Gleevec and Tasigna in both ways.”

Buller will use mice to test the drugs against monkeypox, a virus similar to smallpox.

He says all the viruses being studied either cause high mortality or make people sick for a long time.

"The Department of Defense's goal is to have a licensed drug that they could supply to troops in the field that would be effective against a large number of infectious agents," Buller says.

He says identifying existing medications that could be used against multiple biological threats is a much more cost-effective way to combat bioterrorism than developing new drugs that only work against a single disease.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience