Tactical use of organophosphate nerve agents (chemical weapons, such as sarin, soman, tabun, and VX) against warfighters, as well as non-military personnel, is a legitimate threat. Radical political groups and unstable governments have successfully deployed nerve agents in the recent past. Tabun was used by the Iraqi military against Iran in the 1980s, and sarin was used by the terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo in the Matsumoto and Tokyo subways in the mid 1990s. The United Nations investigation of allegations against the Syrian Arab Republic confirmed “unequivocally and objectively” that chemical weapons were used in the Ghouta area of Damascus in Syria on August 21, 2013, resulting in 3,600 patients displaying symptoms with approximately 1,429 deaths – 426 of which were children. Most recently, the International Business Times reported (February 22, 2015) that, “Islamic State fighters in Libya may have seized large amounts of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and the nerve agent Sarin.” “The ISIS fighters near Tripoli have begun testing the weapons that reportedly once belonged to the former regime of Moammar Gadhafi. ‘Before his death, Gadhafi left approximately 1,000 cubic tons worth of material used for manufacturing chemical weapons and about 20,000 cubic tons of mustard gas.’” Taken together, with the prevalent exposures to OP pesticides worldwide, exposure to OP toxins is a serious issue.
Use of volatile nerve gas agents by terrorist organizations is a key concern of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Department and the Department of Defense. Current medical countermeasures for nerve agent exposure do not provide adequate neuroprotection and survival protection against the toxic effects of nerve agent exposure. Millions of dollars are being spent by the U.S. federal government to develop new and improved nerve agent antidotes. Congress has passed the Project Bioshield Act administered by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) that authorized $5.6 billion for use in developing and procuring terrorist medical countermeasures, including nerve gas antidotes. Development to antidotes to chemical threats against civilians is further supported through the Counter Act program with the health and human services (HHS) agency of the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). The DOD maintains an ongoing program for discovery, improvement and acquisition of nerve agent medical countermeasures for the military through the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense. The type of toxicity found in military nerve agents carries into other areas. The class of active toxic substances in nerve gas agents (Soman, Sarin, VX, etc.) is common to a large group of pesticides referred to as organophosphates (OP). Exposure to these OP compounds can cause death, or for survivors it can cause severe damage to the nervous system.
It is well documented in the scientific literature that the primary challenges of treating exposure to organophosphate (OP) compounds (i.e., nerve agents and OP pesticides) are in improving survival and preventing neurological damage.
Countervail is pursuing the development of several drug technologies to provide improved protection against organophosphorus compound (nerve agents and OP pesticides) poisoning.