The Specter of Smallpox

Smallpox was eradicated in 1980.  Why are scientists still working to develop treatments?

Smallpox is a highly contagious infectious disease.  With a 30+ percent mortality rate, it caused 300 million deaths in the 20th century.  In 1967, the World Health Organization began an Intensified Eradication Program to vaccinate people around the world.  In 1977, the last known case occurred. In 1980, WHO declared smallpox to be completely eradicated – the only infectious disease to earn this distinction.

However, there are a few problems.  First: the smallpox vaccine can prevent people from getting the disease.  But there has not been a drug to treat people who are already infected.

Second: since 1980, people are no longer being vaccinated against smallpox.  That means half the world’s population do not have immunity against the disease.

Third: the smallpox virus still exists.  There are still at least two stockpiles of the variola virus, in the U.S. and Russia.  Terrorism experts are increasingly concerned that smallpox could be used as a biological weapon.  (Please refer to points 1 and 2 above.)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the first treatment for smallpox: TPOXX (Tecovirimat).

Tecovirimat is an orally bioavailable molecule developed by SIGA Technologies.  It works by preventing the formation of extracellular virus particles in a specific gene.  Researchers who tested the drug used an Agilent HPLC system for quantitative analysis of plasma samples.

But viruses can develop drug resistance, so researchers continue to search for other treatments with different mechanisms.

Kalanchoe pinnata is a succulent plant known for its traditional antivirus and antibacterial usage.  U.S. researchers examined compounds isolated from K. pinnata on vaccinia virus, which is closely related to the variola virus that causes smallpox.  The researchers analyzed K. pinnata extracts on an Agilent HPLC system.  Fractions were separated and collected using an Agilent Fraction Collector.  Mass spectrometry data were collected on an Agilent QTOF LC/MS system.

Meanwhile, Russian researchers investigated a new class of vaccinia virus inhibitors based on camphor and borneol.  Their equipment included an Agilent Q-TOF GC/MS system.

Let’s hear it for science!


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