Ciproxin is the marketing name in the UK for a drug that, for a while last autumn, was the most wanted in the West.
Known in the US as Cipro, it is an antibiotic that has been approved in the States as a treatment for inhaled anthrax. As such, during those uneasy days after the World Trade Center attacks, when several Americans died after having opened post contaminated with anthrax, virtually every doctor was being pressed for a prescription.
No wonder an NBC newscaster held up a bottle of pills and announced to the nation: ‘In Cipro we trust’.
Unfortunately, his trust was misplaced. Cipro was rushed through the US drugs approval system 15 months earlier because of fears of a bioterrorist attack – and in so doing, the drug was never tested against anthrax in people.
Its side-effects can be alarming, and include dizziness, confusion, tremors, hallucinations, depression, an allergic reaction which can result in difficulty in breathing, pain, inflammation or rupture of a tendon, and severe tissue inflammation of the colon.
None of this mattered in the rush to safeguard lives against terrorism but, within days, over one-fifth of the people in Florida who had been given Cipro were reporting side-effects. Former patients were also telling newspapers how the drug had ruined their lives.
For the drug to be effective against anthrax, the patient has to take it for 60 days. This was unknown territory for a drug that had only been prescribed in the past for, at most, a 10-day regime. With hundreds of thousands of Americans suddenly embarking on the full 60-day procedure, the world’s largest unregulated drugs trial has just been completed.
We await the results with interest.