The drug, Detoxahol, reinforces the action of the liver in breaking down alcohol, according to CompuMed, a Californian company funding its development. CompuMed wants to produce an over-the-counter version, to be sold in bars and supermarkets.
This raises the possibility that people could consume large quantities of alcohol, take the drug and drive home without having to worry about breathalyser tests. In theory this would be safe, but more research is needed to confirm it. In an average adult it takes at least an hour for the effects of one glass of wine or half a pint of beer to wear off, and eight hours to get over four pints of beer.
Detoxahol has only been tested on animals so far, and clinical trials in humans are not expected until 1995. However, the drug is expected to have minimal side-effects since all of its breakdown products already occur naturally in the body, a spokesman said.
Scientists involved in the development of Detoxahol, which was funded by the American National Institutes of Health, found that the chemical 'creates an auxiliary liver function' in the small intestine, and speeds up the metabolism of alcohol. They claim it will also help to protect the liver. Howard Mark, CompuMed's medical director, said yesterday: 'We believe that with Detoxahol, we are creating a new type of pharmaceutical to meet an enormous worldwide need. This has exciting possible applications for emergency rooms, ambulances and over-the-counter use.'
The Department of Health said last night that any drug would have to be rigorously tested before being allowed on sale in Britain.