Botox is the brand name for botulinum toxin type A, a nerve toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. This is the toxin that causes botulism, a disease that causes paralysis and results in death if untreated. Researchers discovered that botulinum toxin type A could be used clinically to treat people suffering from dystonia, or involuntary rhythmic muscle spasms. The toxin paralyzes these muscles, providing relief from the spasms. Type A is marketed under the brand Botox by pharmaceutical company Allergan Corp., and type B is marketed under the brand Myobloc by Elan Corp.
And then, enterprising cosmetic surgeons discovered that Botox and Myobloc can be injected into the muscles beneath "crow's feet" and "frown line" wrinkles to paralyze them and smooth out the wrinkles. One site ascribed the cause of age-related wrinkles to "overactive muscles," implying that wrinkles, which are part of the normal aging process, are equivalent to symptoms of some disease.
At present, the drugs have not been approved for cosmetic use, but that is not stopping doctors from using it this way. Indeed, though Allergan won't talk about it, cosmetic sales of Botox seem to represent between 30% and 50% ot toal sales, which amounted to $300 million US in 2001. Analysts expect sales of Botox to grow by 27% in 2002, especially if the American Food and Drug Administration accepts Allergan's request to approve cosmetic applications. (Is this Poison a Tonic for Investors?, Business Week, 17 January 2002.)
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