Biochem terror defense research as welfare

Posted in Bioterrorism, War On Terror at 2:36 pm by George Smith

One of the best examples of terror defense research as the equivalent of welfare for scientists is the ricin vaccine.

To be sure, the slow development of a vaccine for ricin is built upon the foundation of good science. However, once you get past the rigor involved, its practical value dissolves into the equivalent of science welfare.

The history of ricin and intended use in poisoning has been well-described many times by this author, here and elsewhere.

It’s a “weapon” of choice for kooks and incompetents. White neo-Nazis in the US, England and Canada are regularly banged up and sent over for a long time for the crime of turning castor seeds into a mush.

The recipe for turning castor seeds into mush containing a bit of ricin is widespread. And occasionally it is even found in the hands of Islamic terrorists, as in one very famous case here.

But there is no way to make ricin into an effective weapon of mass destruction. Despite its toxicity, it’s not quite poisonous enough and not found in quite high enough quantity in the castor seed. And turning castor seeds into powder is not an effective way of purifying it.

And there is no public record anywhere of ricin being made into a WMD, ever — despite the existence of a questionable patent on using ricin as a toxic weapon, one developed by the US government too long ago to be interesting anymore.

As with so many things imagined to be of easy use to terrorists, it is actually easier and more reliable to shoot people, or blow them up, or even strangle them — than to poison with ricin.

Before 9/11 there was no interest in a vaccine for ricin. Man has worked with castor seeds as a renewable agricultural resource for centuries and been no worse the wear for it.

After 9/11 that changed.

And a small number of people have been working on a ricin vaccine ever since. Despite the fact that the only people who might every actually need a ricin vaccine are those who do research with ricin and the occasional nuisance who sickens himself with castor powder.

So, as fruit of the war on terror, one reads — today — of a research paper on a vaccine for ricin:

“Since it is likely that a ricin vaccine would be used in an emergency setting or by the military, the ease of [intradermal] vaccination with jet injectors or similar devices with lower doses of vaccine is rather important,” stated Robert N. Brey, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer of Soligenix. “It should also be noted that ID vaccination was highly effective at protecting the lungs of the mice from ricin aerosols, a likely route of delivery in the setting of bioterrorism.”

It is not a likely setting. The people making the ricin vaccine know it. The only things killed with ricin aerosols are in the labs working toward a finished ricin vaccine.

However, Soligenix is another small biotech company with virtually no product line, one attached to the teat of funding for bioterror defense. It used to be called DOR Biopharma, changing its name a year or so ago, perhaps in a clumsy attempt to snooker potential investors. Like many of the companies mentioned on this blog it is a member of the Alliance for Biosecurity.

Concludes the article on the ricin vaccine:

“There have been many attempts to develop a prophylactic ricin vaccine, using different preparations of the ricin holotoxin with and without various adjuvants,” stated Dr. Ellen Vitetta, Director of the Cancer Immunobiology Center at UT Southwestern and senior author of the study. “But none of these have been as extensively studied as RiVax™ and none have looked at the ID vaccination route.”

Whoopie! A vaccine of benefit only to the company making it. It’s science welfare, kids!

Another small form of science welfare, one also supported since 9/11, is the attempt to make castor plants ricin free through molecular genetics. Like this charity case waste of time at Mississippi State.

The rest of the world — particularly the big producers of castor products, India and China, couldn’t care less about ricin-free castor beans.

It’s just not an issue. The world doesn’t need a ricin-free castor plant. The castor plant is not a menace.

And it wasn’t even an issue in US castor production, although a couple scientist involved in this work now will try to insinuate it was, when castor seed cultivation was stopped in this country because it simply wasn’t profitable enough.

Previously, excerpted from here:

Over the course of a decade, from 1959 until 1970, Plainview was considered the hub of domestic castor bean production with the local office of Baker Castor Oil ultimately contracting for 70,000 acres of production annually.

However, the crop’s success ultimately worked against it with practically no significant domestic production recorded after 1972. Since that time, the United States has been forced to turn to producers in India and Brazil to supply the majority of its needs.

Plainview Mayor John C. Anderson has a unique perspective on the local castor industry, having served as general manager of Baker Castor Oil’s local operations from August 1959 until December 1970.

“During most of that time Baker was the dominant player in the United States with about 75 percent of the castor oil production,” Anderson recalled last week, “and the Plainview facilities accounted for virtually all of that.”

The oil derived from castor beans is used in a vast array of products, ranging from paints, varnishes and lacquers to lipstick, hair tonic and shampoo. Since it does not become stiff with cold nor unduly thin with heat, castor oil is an important component in plastics, soaps, waxes, hydraulic fluids and ink. It also is used to make special lubricants for jet engines and racing cars, and during World War I, World War II and the Korean War it was stockpiled by the federal government as a strategic material.

Comments are closed.