Amaox Battles Bioterrorism with Collaboration Software

By Doug Bartholomew Print this article Print

Amaox is tackling the worst chemical and biological weapons known to man with cutting-edge visual collaboration software.

Mustard gas. Phosgene. Chlorine gas. Anthrax.

If it's a potential bioterrorist weapon, chances are that Amaox— a little known biotech company— has a treatment in the works to stop such an outbreak or at least mitigate the effects of an attack before it could kill large numbers of people.

Arming itself with cutting-edge visual collaboration software, Amaox is able to share and integrate complex ideas from medical researchers around the country and North America.

"We are 'the little engine that could,'" said Dr. Milton Smith, an emergency medical physician by training and founder and CEO of Amaox (pronounced AM-ox) Ltd. "This technology allows us to be competitive, enabling our organization to do in two or three months what it would otherwise have taken 10 years to do."

The potential size of a chemical or biological weapons attack in this country or anywhere else is mind-boggling, yet the U.S. has yet to come to grips with the problem. "We're woefully unprepared if an incident should occur," Dr. Smith warned.

Amaox has received funding from the Department of Defense for its current research programs, and in December its research team applied for an additional $1.5 million grant to investigate chlorine toxicity to see if Amaox technology can be used to treat sufferers of a chlorine gas bomb or accidental spill.

"The government wants to develop these antidotes because no one else is going to do it. The larger pharmaceutical companies don't see a big enough market for these antidotes to weapons of mass destruction," said Dr. Smith.

The Melbourne, Fla.-based Dr. Smith, and Dr. Bill Stone, professor of pediatrics and director of pediatric research at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tenn., make up the sum total of the staff. But the virtual firm, by using a software package called MindManager from Mindjet Corp. of San Francisco, has been able to magnify the two lead researchers' brainpower many times over by tapping into the collective research of scientists around the U.S. and Canada who also are working on solutions to the threat of chemical and biological weapons.

In 1999, Amaox, which acts as a sort of virtual bridge for government, universities, and industry to develop better solutions to the bioterrorist threat, took the lead by establishing the Advanced Medical Countermeasures Consortium, including researchers from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Chemical Defense, Harvard Medical School, University of Michigan, east Tennessee State university, Drexel University, Northern Ontario Medical School , Meharry Medical College, AFG Biosolutions, Inc., and Amaox.

The fledgling company initially was faced with what Dr. Smith calls "a Herculean task. The relationships between and among the members had to be clearly mapped out so that everyone in the consortium—and potential funding agencies—could clearly understand what we were trying to create and how we would organize the work," he said. "But the ideas were too complex to do all this with just words. They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, but if that's true, then a visual map is worth 5,000 words."

The task of creating and managing a virtual team of researchers who were geographically scattered but who were working to address a specific medical challenge was made a lot easier and less time-consuming through the use of MindManager, which can best be described as software for brainstorming or idea-sharing. Drs. Stone and Smith use the software to capture and organize the group members' ideas and information. "Each scientist has a different way to look at a problem, and we needed to gather that information," Dr. Smith explained. "Gaining a high-level view of the information is key to the process."

"Mind Manager has been an advantage for us, because it brought everything together on one sheet of paper," Dr. Smith said. "Being able to map out each idea, it allows us to see the relationships between and among things. We can take very complex concepts and components and see how the different factors involved integrate and affect each other."

For instance, when Dr. Stone is working on a research project and trying to represent its developmental process, he uses the software's "mind mapping" capability to lay out all the various ideas and inputs from different sources. "These mind maps give you a way of saving your efforts, while linking the information to documents and the to the Web and to other software," Dr. Stone said. "If I am outlining the flow of an experiment, it allows me to see the big picture."

MindManager works by enabling users to aggregate several primary factors for a research project, sales campaign, or strategic plan on a single "mind map" screen. A mind map includes a variety of "thought balloons"—similar to spoken words in a cartoon. Users can click on these items to learn more about a particular factor or idea. Each item tends to be connected with one or more other related ideas or factors. The ability to view these relationships on a single screen is useful, not only in the field of medical research, but for business activities such as analyzing sales plans or project planning.

For example, Webex Communications Inc., which was acquired last year by Cisco Systems, uses MindManager to speed up the sales process. Before using MindManager, it took three or four telephone calls to complete the discovery portion of the sales cycle, in which the salesperson tries to understand the customer's needs and gain access to the appropriate decision makers. "Now it takes us only one call to complete the discovery stage," said Stu Schmidt, vice president of solutions at Webex in Santa Clara, Calif. "It focuses the sales representative to listen carefully to understand the customer and capture the customer's ideas. We actually develop the action plan for the sale right on that call, using MindManager."

Without the mind mapping capability, Dr. Stone says he'd have to rely on in-person meetings with each individual researcher. "I'd have to bring people into my office and have them sit down in front of a whiteboard, and I'd have to draw the pictures showing the relationships of the information, and then there's be no record of it."

Another benefit Amaox has derived from using MindManager is the speeding up of its funding request process. The virtual biotech firm has gotten an 80 percent increase in funding as a result of faster grant writing, Dr. Stone reports. What's more, the software also speeds the time it takes to for scientists at the participating laboratories to collaborate on a particular research project. "It's really beneficial to have pictures to show the ways the various laboratories are interconnecting," Dr. Stone added. "The amount of time we spend on collaborative research has been cut by at least half as a result."

Amaox researchers' first breakthrough was in developing a successful treatment for people suffering from mustard gas. Although mustard gas was used extensively as a weapon in World War I, the search for an antidote to this terrible chemical weapon mystified scientists and researchers for nearly a century-- until now. "We proved that we could significantly reduce the damage of mustard gas," Dr. Smith said.

Dr. Smith discovered and patented an antidote to mustard gas, using micro-syringe, antioxidant liposomes to stop the gas' damaging effect on an exposed patient's lungs. "We have proven that antioxidant liposomes can reduce inflammation and prevent a lot of immediate tissue damage," said Dr. Stone. The treatment also helps human cells to eradicate the anthrax bacteria, he says. The consortium's research has shown that antioxidant liposomes are effective against chemical and biological weapons that center around an inflammation of the lungs. "We got consistent results," Smith added. "This is a gargantuan step in chemical weapons research."

The antidote, called Stimal, consists of liposome encapsulated antioxidants. The fat-soluble drug formula, when put into a liposome, a nano-sized syringe, and then injected into the patient, is a potent drug delivered directly into the affected cells to decrease inflammation in the lungs—the early and most deadly symptoms of many types of chemical and biological weapons. The drug also can be taken as an aerosol or administered topically on the skin. "For someone who has been exposed to chemical weapons, the drug most likely will be in aerosol form," Dr. Smith said.

The next step for Amaox is to find a larger biotech or pharmaceutical industry partner "to help expand the application as well as increase the intensity of our research," concluded Dr. Smith.

This article was originally published on 2008-01-09
Doug Bartholomew is a career journalist who has covered information technology for more than 15 years. A former senior editor at IndustryWeek and InformationWeek, his freelance features have appeared in New York magazine and the Los Angeles Times Magazine. He has a B.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University.
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