United States pharmaceutical companies are inadvertently creating tens of thousands of poisonous new compounds each year that terrorists or rogue nations could develop into chemical weapons, according to a California researcher.

These unintended toxins arise from the drug industry's automated high-throughput technology that permits millions of new compounds to be created and tested, and those found to be toxic to humans, simply discarded, said Mark Wheelis, director of the Program in Nature and Culture at the University of California, Davis.

"Currently, a single [facility] can screen several hundred thousand new compounds per day against several dozen different proteins," Wheelis said. Of three million new compounds created each year, on the order of 50,000 are highly toxic, he explained. "Any one of these is a potential lethal chemical weapon agent."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is also concerned about these and many other products of the biotechnology...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to more than 35 years of archives, as well as TS Digest, digital editions of The Scientist, feature stories, and much more!
Already a member?