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Move Over, Cipro

Postal workers are taking it in increasing numbers. Supreme Court employees have been issued a six-day supply. The antibiotic doxycycline is emerging as an anti-anthrax drug of choice in the U.S. war on bioterrorism.

Health officials in the District of Columbia - an anthrax hot spot - say doxycycline is cheaper than the better-known anti-anthrax drug Cipro, has fewer side effects and is just as effective. They also say that unlike Cipro, doxycycline (pronounced dawk-see-SY'-kleen) is available in abundance.

The federal government plans to make the antibiotic an important tool in its bioterror arsenal. Generic drugmaker Ivax Corp. is supplying the government with more than 1.2 billion tablets of doxycycline as federal health officials build a national stockpile of drugs to treat anthrax.

The small, Miami-based company to sell the generic drug for about 3 cents per tablet to the government. In contrast, German drugmaker Bayer AG, the maker of Cipro, said it plans to sell Cipro to the government for 95 cents per tablet.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson has said the government aims to compile enough anthrax treatments to treat 12 million people over a 60-day period. Many antibiotics are taken twice per day, meaning at least 1.44 billion pills would be needed for the stockpile.

Ivaxc isn't the only drug maker eager to produce anti-anthrax medications.

Health-care giant Johnson & Johnson has offered the government 100 million tablets of its antibiotic Levaquin, which it hopes to have approved to treat anthrax.

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. offered to give anyone with a confirmed anthrax infection or exposure to anthrax no-cost supplies of antibiotic Tequin. Eli Lilly and Co., Pfizer Inc., Abbott Laboratories and Pharmacia have all made similar announcements about testing or supplying antibiotics.

Both Levaquin and Tequin are in the class of antibiotics known as quinolones, the same type as Cipro. Doxycycline is among the class of antibiotics known as tetracyclines.

Health experts said the government could stockpile drugs from a few categories of antibiotics, as each causes different side effects.

Ivax also said on Friday that it has an application pending with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for ciprofloxacin, the generic equivalent of Cipro.

A handful of companies have tentative approvals to market copycats of Cipro, but Bayer has U.S. patent protection over the drug until late 2003.

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