Ricin is a deadly toxin made from castor beans. Victims suffer flu-like symptoms beginning hours after ingestion, with organ failure following. Victims can die within three days. There is no cure.
The poison has been used in political assassinations and bioterrorism plots, most famously in 1978 when the KGB assassinated a Russian political dissident at a London bus stop by poking him in the leg with a ricin-tipped umbrella. A lethal dose of ricin is as small as a grain of salt. And while so far the toxin has been used to target individuals, it has the potential to be used in mass attacks. As late as 2011, Al-Qaeda attempted to make ricin bombs.
Now an Emmons Drive-based company, Soligenix, has received a patent for a cure for ricin poisoning. Soligenix has created a vaccine called RiVax that can be administered to prevent death after exposure to a lethal dose of ricin, protecting the victim against the toxin. According to a press release, Soligenix also believes that its product could also be tailored to protect against anthrax — another bioterrorism agent.
Soligenix has put RiVax through two early clinical safety trials and says it provided “100 percent protection” to non-human primates exposed to aerosol ricin. “This patent further supports the ability to combine the antigen for the RiVax vaccine with other antigens to create a multivalent vaccine for potential protection against multiple biothreats, such as a combination with an anthrax vaccine,” the company said in the press release.
Soligenix developed RiVax with funding from grants from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Food and Drug Administration. The company says that the vaccine could be administered to military and civilian emergency responders in the event of a bioterrorism attack.
Soligenix (SNGX), 29 Emmons Drive, Suite B-10, Princeton 08540. 609-538-8200. Christopher J. Schaber, president and CEO. www.soligenix.com.