Double (dis)advantage

Mumbai: A California-based researcher has said that pharmaceutical companies in the US alone are inadvertently creating tens of thousands of poisonous new compounds each year that terrorists or rogue nations could develop into chemical weapons.

"Currently, a single [facility] can screen several hundred thousand new compounds per day against several dozen different proteins," writes Mark Wheelis, director of the Programme in Nature and Culture at the University of California. Of 3 million new compounds created each year, around 50,000 are highly toxic. He made these remarks in an article published in The New Scientist magazine as part of a series on illegal use of drugs. "Any one of these is a potential lethal chemical weapon agent," he went on to add.

In their efforts to synthesise new chemical entities, global pharmaceutical majors screen tens of thousands of compounds using high-throughput technology. Out of this voluminous chunk, normally, very few — say one or two — molecules qualify to be developed in to be efficient drugs.

But what happens to those discarded due to some reasons like increased toxicity to humans and other living beings? Or how effectively do drug firms protect this cast-offs' data that may involve dangerously toxic chemical compounds as well?

"Normally, all the pharmaceutical companies world over protect the data related to all the research and development in their firms. It is a rare possibility that drugs could leak out of the lab and fall into unwanted hands," Dr Shreeram Areadhye, head, global medical affairs, Novartis Pharma AG, tells domain-b.