"Finding out who got access to the anthrax could be politically explosive."
1. Investigators say anthrax strain was genetically modified
2. Huntingdon finds a new life in US
1. Investigators say anthrax strain was modified
Cox News Service October 10, 2001
Sanjay Bhatt, Meghan Meyer
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. BODY: Federal investigators believe the strain of anthrax bacterium that killed Robert Stevens and was found in the nasal passage of an American Media co-worker was genetically modified, The Palm Beach Post has learned. That doesn't necessarily mean the strain is more lethal, because officials say it is sensitive to penicillin. What remains unclear is how the strain was modified. Although it could have been created in a terrorist's bioweapons factory, it could also have been produced in an academic or commercial laboratory for research or be a natural mutation never seen. The strain's name hasn't been made public. The FBI, which has opened a criminal investigation, continued Tuesday to comb the sealed-off Boca Raton headquarters of American Media Inc. where Stevens worked as a photo assistant for The Sun, one of the company's tabloid publications. Stevens died Friday of inhalational anthrax, the first case in the United States since 1978. Investigators found no evidence of the germ Bacillus anthracis in Stevens' home, garden, fishing spots, bicycle routes, social circle or two area grocery stores where he shopped, officials said. His wife and children have stopped taking antibiotics, are using his car and are back in the family home. "What we have found at this point in the investigation ... is that it is pointing in the direction of something other than just a natural exposure," said Barbara Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "The data is piling up for something else," she said, emphasizing the agency is looking at every possibility. She said she had no other details. The only spores found were on Stevens' office keyboard and in the nasal passage of co-worker Ernesto Blanco, who worked in the building's mailroom.
CDC's Reynolds confirmed it is the first known case in the United States in which a person has been exposed to anthrax in an office building. Most exposures have been in laboratories or in factories containing contaminated wool or animal hides. Anthrax cannot be passed from one person to another. The strain of bacterium found in Stevens' body matches the strain found on his keyboard and in Blanco's nose, Dr. Jean Malecki, director of the Palm Beach County Health Department, told a press conference. More than 770 employees, family members and construction contractors who stood in line on Monday and Tuesday to have their noses swabbed and to receive antiobiotics will have to return to the county's health clinic for blood tests, officials said. The blood drawing could take a week. A state lab in Miami and a CDC lab in Atlanta each will test their blood to see if they have elevated antibody levels _ a sign they may have been exposed to anthrax or other germs. Dual testing provides more confidence in the results. CDC's Reynolds said its labs are working 24 hours a dayscreening the samples. Results could be ready within days. Malecki told reporters Tuesday that the anthrax strain found in Stevens had been identified. When asked what it was, she replied, "I'm not at liberty to say."
State health officials last week said the strain appeared to be naturally occurring, but have backed away from that statement. Blanco, whose condition has improved at Cedars Medical Center in Miami, did not show anthrax's classic symptoms, even though he was exposed, officials said. Tri Rail told its riders that it was possible someone who had anthrax had been on the train - Blanco rode it to work from his North Miami home - and to call the county health officials if they needed information. Pharmacies in Palm Beach County reported increases in sales of antibiotics as news of the anthrax scare spead. Ciprofloxacin, an oral antibiotic that officials are using most to safeguard against anthrax, was in greatest demand. "Whether we have it in stock or not depends on when and where you go," said Carol Hively, a Walgreens spokeswoman. "It seems to be radiating from Boca Raton."
The rush to buy Cipro wasn't noted in areas outside of Palm Beach County, she said. The shortage is compounded because physicians are prescribing up to 120 tablets for patients when the normal request for a urinary tract infection is about 20, Hively said. That troubles the Florida Medical Association, which has formed a task force to educate doctors about how to diagnose and treat conditions caused by biochemical weapons. "We are concerned that the indiscriminate use of antibiotics for such purpose might cause adverse effects and can contribute to the emergence of resistant strains of common infectious diseases," said Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger, chair of the task force. Officials told AMI employees they might have to take antibiotics for up to 60 days. Experts weren't sure what to make of investigators finding spores in the building. "I think it's a biocrime, not bioterrorism," said Martin Hugh-Jones, a Louisiana State Univesity epidemiologist who heads a World Health Organization anthrax task force. "It's like somebody went in with a pistol and shot up the office." Finding out who got access to the anthrax could be politically explosive. "I study it all the time and we have trouble getting cultures," Hugh-Jones said. "For Joe Blow it would be very tricky."
Bioterrorism experts have long worried about nations like Iraq using anthrax on American civilians. U.S. intelligence knew Saddam Hussein had anthrax weapons in 1995. And Mohamed Atta, who lived in South Florida and is believed to have crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, met with an Iraqi intelligence official. He also looked at cropdusters in Belle Glade days before the Sept. 11 attacks. The case has sparked fear across parts of Florida. Emergency officials responded to calls around the state about suspicious powders being mailed or delivered to homes and businesses. Firefighters in suburban Fort Lauderdale were quarantined for 12 hours, and officials closed a bank and law firm in Naples. Dozens of people were sent to hospitals for tests, but there were no reports of anyone becoming sick. "I could probably drop a package of Sweet n' Low and evacuate this building," Collier County Emergency Management Director Ken Pineau said. FBI spokeswoman Judy Orihuela said there was no proof that a letter mailed to AMI several weeks ago was the source of the bacteria. The love letter to singer Jennifer Lopez reportedly contained a powdery substance. Outside the sealed-off AMI headquarters, Boca Raton Fire Rescue workers who handle hazardous materials scrubbed down the hooded white jumpsuits of health investigators and FBI agents Tuesday as they exited. Lt. Frank Montilli said Fire-Rescue expected to continue aiding the FBI at least until noon today. Delray Beach police officers also helped guard the periphery, which was cordoned off by police tape. In Tallahassee, Gov. Jeb Bush again acknowledged concerns about the anthrax problem and a terrorist backlash. "I know our people are scared. There is an apprehension," Bush said. "Times like this require leaders with a strong, yet reasoned, sense of duty and responsibility."
At a luncheon meeting of House Democrats, Florida Secretary of Health Dr. John Agwunobi tried to reassure a handful of worried legislators that health officials were doing all they could. "How do you know if it's running around this building or any building?" Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, demanded. "At this point in time, we don't know," Agwunobi said. "We need to prepare the population for what may happen in the future."
Sanjay Bhatt, Meghan Meyer and Jim Ash work for The Palm Beach Post. E-mail: sanjaybhatt(at)pbpost.com; meghanmeyer(at)pbpost.com; JimAsh(at)pbpost.com Staff Writers Jim Ash, Antigone Barton, Noah Bierman, Dani Davies, Kim Folstad, Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Mary McLachlin and John Murawski, and Palm Beach Post wire services contributed to this story.
2. Huntingdon finds a new life in US
By DAVID FIRN and PATRICK JENKINS
Financial Times (London) October 10, 2001
Huntingdon Life Sciences' decision to seek domicile in the US is a high- profile loss for the UK life science sector, which faces increasing hostility despite strong government support. It is one of many that are finding the US more welcoming to medical research. Many inside the industry say the UK public has a schizophrenic attitude to biotechnology. Most people want the benefits of new medicines - even cures based on controversial stem cell research - but there is widespread opposition to the animal testing needed to ensure treatments are safe. Grahame Bulfield, head of the Roslin Institute in Scotland that created Dolly the cloned sheep, recently said Britain had become "a hostile environment" for its agricultural biotechnology work, although there was great enthusiasm for medical research. He said the institute could be forced to drop its agricultural research, even though it could have addressed many of the food safety problems that concerned consumers. An enlightened legal framework has made the UK the best place to do cloning and stem cell research, which uses cells from human embryos, but pharmaceutical companies are increasingly shifting research to the US. Public opinion is not the only factor. Pharmaceutical companies are being drawn across the Atlantic because of increasingly tight government controls on prices in Europe. The US accounts for 40 per cent of the global pharmaceuticals market by sales, but 60 per cent of profits. That has created a bigger market for contract research organisations such as HLS. Indeed, HLS itself says one of the main reasons for its relocation is that it wants to be considered more seriously. Its peer group of contract research organisations - particularly those with animal testing expertise - are all in the US. However, it does not necessarily follow, analysts argue, that the outlook for UK biotechnology as a whole is bleak. Julie Simmonds at Beeson Gregory says: "Huntingdon is a bit of an oddball really.
Its contract work in animal testing puts it in a different ballpark from most other UK companies."
If that fails to hearten UK company directors and shareholders exposed to protestor action, regulatory reform is at hand. Last week the Department of Trade and Industry launched an accelerated consultation proposing that directors' home addresses need not be published in company registration documents. Stockbrokers and regulators at the Financial Services Authority are examining a scheme - likely to be in place this year - to make nominee shareholdings independent of stockbrokers and thus entirely anonymous.