Drug giants help US anthrax drive

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In a mood of renewed global fear, the US Government has enlisted the help of 80,000 drugs sales reps to help doctors cope with a possible new wave of anthrax-related bioterrorism.

The companies that agreed to the Washington directive include Britain's pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, which is offering the support of its 8,000-strong sales force to distribute the anti-anthrax brochure. "We will use our resources to combat bioterrorism," said a GSK spokesman.

Other firms that pledged support include Eli Lilly and Pharmacia from the US and Germany's Bayer. Although AstraZeneca will not be involved in the first wave of the programme, it has also indicated its willingness to take part in Washington's future bioterrorism initiatives.

Sales staff whose jobs would normally involve schmoozing GPs and persuading them to prescribe their company's products will now be quasi-public servants, handing out the extremely gory seven-page leaflet designed to help health workers recognise the various symptoms of the killer disease.

The drive is being spearheaded by Tommy Thompson, the Secretary of Health and Human Services who guided the US through the wave of anthrax attacks after 11 September. Although the first safety phase has targeted only 13 US cities, his goal is to try to reach every single American medical office. "We are doing everything we can to help prepare for what might happen should our adversaries strike again," he says.

The Atlanta Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has continued to issue warnings that the US should stay aware of the dangers.