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U develops drug for cyanide poisoning

This drug would be easier for first responders to administer.

A new drug out of the University of Minnesota could make it easier for first responders to treat cyanide poisoning in emergency situations.

Sulfanegen, from the University’s Center for Drug Design, will be developed and marketed by Vytacera Pharma Inc. as a treatment for cyanide poisoning.

Cyanide poisoning prohibits the body from using oxygen, causing dizziness and respiratory failure. If not treated immediately, the poison can be deadly. The current treatment is time consuming and requires skilled professionals to administer.

Steve Patterson, an associate professor at the center who helped develop Sulfanegen, said it’d be easier to administer and would work faster. Therefore, more patients would be able to be treated in a shorter period of time.

The water soluble, rapid-acting drug would be administered using an automatic injector which allows minimally-trained first responders to treat large numbers of cyanide victims, said Herbert Nagasawa, another of the drug’s developers.

One of the goals of creating a more efficient drug is to deter terrorists from using cyanide as a means of attack, Patterson said.

According to a journal article by Mark E. Keim printed in Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, cyanide poisoning is the choice of many terrorists because it’s readily available, can cause mass physical and psychological causalities, is versatile in how it can be delivered and doesn’t require skills for effective use.

“Protective measures against biological warfare agents, chemical warfare agents and nuclear attacks are very serious homeland security issues,” Nagasawa said.

Hydrogen cyanide is a colorless gas that is released into the air when household items like plastics burn.

Not only would this drug be used as a deterrent against terrorist attacks, but it would also help those involved in industrial accidents. Cyanide is stored in industrial settings for mining, plastics, chemical manufacturers and metal works, Nagasawa said.

Because it’s not ethically permissible to expose a subject to hydrogen cyanide, researchers have been testing the drug on animals like mice, rabbits and pigs. They administered the drug after lethal doses of cyanide, and it was successful — the animals survived.

If approved by the FDA, the automatic injector would be prominent in emergency rooms and first responder kits,
Patterson said.


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