People have feared smallpox for centuries. The disease characterized by a rash that turns into pustules tends to favor showing up on faces, arms, and legs. Those lucky would survive, albeit with scars reminiscent of the disease. However, nearly one-third of the millions infected worldwide died.
Thankfully, it no longer exists. In 1980 when a global vaccination released, experts declared the disease eradicated.
With this in mind, it might be confusing as to why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration shared its approval of the first medication for this disease: tecoviramat, Brand name TPOXX.
The answer is quite simple. It’s a defense against bioterrorism. The first customer for the drug is the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.
SIGA Technologies, the maker of the new drug, delivered two million courses of TPOXX to the Strategic National Stockpile. This repository of vaccines and medicines are in case of a rare disease outbreak or biothreat.
The company won’t release the information on price per dose yet. However, the initial contract with the government is worth $472 million, which includes the medicine.
As of now, the government is the only approved purchaser for the drug. SIGA, however, stated it plans to explore other markets and possible indications for TPOXX not only for the U.S. but also around the world.
Synthetic Viruses and Smallpox
Canada, one of the potential customers for the medicine, has its own stockpile of national emergency vaccines and treatments. These include Ebola and anthrax.
Should the manufacturer approach the Canadian government, officials would evaluate the scientific merit of the drug and weigh the benefits and risks before deciding if they should buy or approve of it.
But if smallpox is gone, how could it be used as a bioweapon?
Samples of the virus do still exist in two secure labs. One held in the U.S. and the other in Russia, for research purposes only. The World Health Organization (WHO) regularly inspects each location.
Even with no evidence of the disease remaining elsewhere in the world, it is possible there is some. Professor David Evans specializes in virology and used to be a member of WHO’s smallpox advisory committee.
A significant concern is the possibility of synthetic viruses. Evans’ research showed the potential to re-create the virus horsepox, a disease in the same family as smallpox.
Even if someone wanted to use bioterrorism, other diseases are more infectious and more accessible to make than smallpox. However, the virus has infamy all its own that could cause widespread panic at the threat of releasing it. Which is why governments have the treatments in stock.