The U.S. is stockpiling smallpox drugs in case of a biological attack

By Lauren Davis

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While smallpox has been eradicated in the wild, samples of the deadly virus still exist in the United States and Russia. Some biodefense experts fear that the continued existence of smallpox leaves the world open to a bioterrorist smallpox attack. To contain a possible smallpox outbreak, the U.S. government has authorized a controversial purchase of a drug to treat smallpox, to the tune of $463 million. But does the U.S. really need what it’s buying?

The New York Times reports that the government has ordered enough doses of the drug Arestvyr, formerly known as ST-246, to treat 200 million people in the event of a smallpox attack. However, bioterrorism experts disagree as to whether so much of the drug is necessary, and whether it warrants such a high price tag.

Since the September 11th attacks, the U.S. has increased its stockpile of smallpox vaccine from 15 million doses to 300 million doses. Arestvyr, on the other hand, is a drug meant to treat viral infections. The drug hasn’t been tested on humans suffering from smallpox infections (for lack of subjects), but it has successfully treated smallpox and monkeypox in monkeys and smallpox-related viruses in humans. The FDA has approved the drug for emergency use only.

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