The Alarming Reason the FDA Just Approved a Drug for Smallpox — Which No Longer Exists

Syringe on a map of Africa

Syringe on a map of Africa |

If you’ve feared smallpox, it was likely as a child reading up on the history of contagious, fatal diseases. The infectious virus was declared eradicated in 1980 after the last case of 1977. Smallpox may be extinct, but the effects are terrifying to think of — pus-filled pox that covers your body, scarring, and potential blindness among them.

A physician discovered a vaccination to prevent smallpox in 1798 and the World Health Organization (WHO) buckled down to eradicate the disease in the late 1960s. However, the current smallpox vaccination is only effective if administered five days before exposure. Plus, very few people are currently vaccinated considering the disease wasn’t considered a threat — until now.

Why approve a drug now?

FDA Tweet

FDA tweets about the new smallpox drug | @FDA_Drug_Info via Twitter

The FDA released the following statement in an attempt to calm the public, stating that the drug’s creation was just precautionary in the event of a bioterrorist attack.

“This new treatment affords us an additional option should smallpox ever be used as a bioweapon,” said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, FDA commissioner. “Today’s action reflects the FDA’s commitment to ensuring that the U.S. is prepared for any public health emergency with timely, safe and effective medical products.”

Variola, one of the viruses that causes smallpox, was discovered in a government lab storeroom in Maryland four years ago. Bioterrorism experts claim the virus could be engineered in a lab with gene-editing techniques as well as exist elsewhere, HuffPost reported. The New York Times reported there are at least two known stores of the virus: one in Russia and another in the U.S.

The drug, a capsule, is intended to be taken twice daily for 14 days.

Researches tested the drug on monkeys and rabbits

Scientists infected both monkeys and rabbits with a virus similar to Variola and then administered the drug. The research project had over a 90% survival rate according to SIGA Technologies of New York, the maker of the drug. They’ve already delivered 2 million treatments of the drug, TPOXX, to the government, which partially funded the drug’s development.

TPOXX was also safety tested in several hundred healthy human volunteers, who were not infected with smallpox. Researchers said side effects included headaches, nausea, and abdominal pain.

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