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Pentagon Seeks Drug to Counter Effects of Radiation Sickness

April 27, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The military is testing drugs that would allow troops to fight even after exposure to radiation, such as from a nuclear blast, a Pentagon official says.

The work is being conducted in cooperation with several other members of the NATO alliance, Air Force Maj. Gen. Ken Hagemann, director of the Defense Nuclear Agency, said Wednesday.

Hagemann, in a meeting with defense reporters, noted that the drug could not reverse the potentially deadly consequences of exposure to radiation, but could allow troops to continue working for some time.

The general said he had few specific details to offer about the medication. But a Defense Department official, who provided information on condition of anonymity, said ``two commercial drugs ... are being evaluated for military use.″

``It’s not an antidote″ to radiation exposure, the official said, but rather is designed to counter the nausea and vomiting that are the initial symptoms of radiation sickness.

The drugs involved in the test are Ondansetron and Granisetron, developed by the companies Glaxo and SmithKline Beecham, respectively.

The drugs have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and the surgeon general and are now being tested by two dozen military volunteers at an Air Force base in Texas, the defense official said.

The work on ascertaining whether such a drug was safe and available began in 1989, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the threat of a potential nuclear exchange was deemed higher by the NATO allies. The program has cost the United States about $600,000 per year, and other NATO allies have spent about the same amount, the official said.

The group formed to study the matter contained Canada, France, Spain, Britain and the United States, but Spain withdrew several years ago, the official said.

The Defense Nuclear Agency will finish its reports on the testing by 1996, the official said.

Hagemann, who has headed the agency for three years, noted that the nuclear threat facing the United States and its allies since the end of the Cold War ``is totally different.″

But certain ``rogue states″ are attempting to, or have developed nuclear weapons, and the search for defense against them is still valid, he said.

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