Scientists from the US Department of Energy and Stony Brook University have been selected to receive up to $1.4m in applied research funds from the Department of Defense to develop drugs that block the paralytic and deadly effects of neurotoxic poisons.

The funding from the Department of Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) will enable the Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory and Stony Brook University’s Institute of Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery to develop the drugs, which could provide a important cure in the event of bioterrorism attacks.

Produced by clostridium botulinum bacteria, botulinum toxins are poisonous proteins that destroy vital muscle movement-controlling nerve cells components, preventing the muscles from functioning, which can lead to paralysis and death.

The drug development process will focus on, among other objectives, deciphering the structure of enzyme-inhibitor complexes, and screening large databases for candidate molecules and peptides blocking the active sites of multiple botulinum toxin strains.

The process will include developing a single drug to block the toxic effects of multiple strains, as there are seven different strains, or serotypes, of the botulinum toxin, including four that affect humans.

The current treatment for botulinum toxin exposure is only effective if administered before the toxin infiltrates target cells, a critical time period that may pass before a diagnosis is made.