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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For FSB Stress, Use Imunofan

Few companies could hope for a better product endorsement.

Prominently displayed on the Federal Security Service's web site is a 4,500-word paean of praise to a new drug, Imunofan, as a cure for the battle-weary soldiers of FSB special commando units.

Thanks to the efforts of its inventor, Vladimir Lebedev, and the FSB's own medical institute, the drug, now available throughout Russia, has become a vital aid for the FSB in helping to relieve the symptoms of post-traumatic stress among former and active commandos.

Lebedev, the head of the immunology and biotechnology laboratory at the Central Institute of Epidemiology, developed the drug, which strengthens the body's immune system, 12 years ago.

"It says in the Bible, 'In the beginning, there was the Word.' It is the same in our case," Lebedev is quoted as saying in the article on fsb.ru. "At first there were six amino acids, from which a small molecule, which is Imunofan, was synthesized."

The article, a reprint from the newspaper Novosti Razvedki i Kontrrazvedki, or Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence News, describes how the drug was originally developed to boost the body's immune system, to help cancer patients prevent or alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy.

Imunofan can also be used in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and diphtheria, according to the drug's web site.

Yet it wasn't until five or six years after the drug was invented that the FSB approached Lebedev, asking him to help his country's fight against terrorism.

"I always thought it was my civic duty to help in the fight against terrorism in Chechnya, so I agreed," he said, by telephone Monday.

The FSB saw it as a possible way to help relieve post-traumatic stress, according to Yevgeny Cherepanov, head of the FSB's institute of psycho-physiology and psychology, and Vladimir Komarov, a senior researcher at the institute, who were both interviewed on the FSB's web site.

At first the drug was voluntarily tested on former KGB employees who had returned from war zones, Cherepanov said.

Komarov told the story of a chronic schizophrenic, who he called "V.," who was being treated at the Central Military Hospital. V. suffered from the delusion that his sister was being constantly raped even "when she was sitting nearby and drinking tea," Komarov said.

Having tried everything on the patient, who had been treated for his schizophrenia for 15 years, doctors decided to try Imunofan.

Six days after V. was given five injections of Imunofan, Komarov was greeted as a hero at the hospital, where he was taken to meet the patient.

"Everything is OK with my sister and I'm OK," V. said, Komarov recalled.

The drug can also help to reduce suicidal feelings among soldiers returning from war, Cherepanov said, adding that it does not have the side effects of psychotropic drugs.

Commandos now sometimes take Imunofan while on active service, as well as when recovering from post-traumatic stress. Taking the drug before and after military operations helps, Cherepanov said.

"It allowed many of our employees to overcome the effects of stress," he said. On one occasion Imunofan enabled a commando team to complete "one of the most difficult special services operations. The wide use of Imunofan played a role in stabilizing the emotional condition of our personnel," he said.

Imunofan's effect on the immune system helps to increase the effectiveness of other drugs the patient takes, Cherepanov said.

More controversially, Komarov also claimed for Imunofan that it could help someone affected by a nuclear explosion.

If taken before the blast, the drug could block many of the effects, he said, but the article did not explain how the FSB scientists came to this conclusion.

The FSB's desire to help its commandos compares dramatically with Soviet days, when Soviet medics were largely ignorant of post-traumatic stress disorder and the KGB had no such drugs at its disposal, said Moscow Duma Deputy Sergei Goncharov, who served in the KGB's Alfa special commando units.

Another Alfa veteran, who asked not to be named, recalled in a recent interview how he was snubbed by his commander after asking for an aquarium to be installed in the barracks, as a way to help those suffering after tours of duty in Afghanistan relax.

The formidably built veteran said his commander told him to forget trying to relax. "Just look at your rosy-cheeked face in the mirror, and remember that time you bent a steel rod when you were fixing those tank treads," the Alfa veteran remembered his commander saying.

Several of his colleagues got so depressed, the veteran said, that they committed suicide. He admitted that he also came close to killing himself, and still suffers from fits of rage.

Imunofan is not the first drug sold in pharmacies to be associated with use by the FSB. Antipokhmelin, marketed under the brand name RU-21 in the United States, is a pill that was used by KGB agents to prevent them becoming drunk on spying missions.

In Hollywood, the pill has been successfully marketed as a hangover prophylactic for those wanting to wake up without a sore head.

Lebedev, who also owns Bionox, the company that manufactures the drug, was not involved in the testing on FSB employees, but has received regular statistics on the usefulness of the drug. He received a government award in 2002 for his development of the drug.

Lebedev's cooperation with the FSB is purely on a scientific level, he said, adding that he owns all the rights to the drug. Imunofan is available by prescription at pharmacies, although some sell it without a prescription for about 25-30 rubles (80 cents to $1) a dose, Lebedev said.

Bionox is currently working on a spray form of the drug and Lebedev hopes to find partners to help him get the drug approved for sale abroad.

A spokesman for the FSB declined to comment on the drug by telephone Monday.