Novichok: How are victims surviving poisoning?

The Novichok agent A-234 molecule—a proposed structure.

Enlarge / The Novichok agent A-234 molecule—a proposed structure. (credit: Molekuul/Getty Images)

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is likely to survive a suspected poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok, according to the hospital treating him. There have now been at least six known cases of serious Novichok poisoning in the past two years. But only one victim tragically died from it.

Why is that? Is the substance less lethal than previously thought? Or could it be that the stockpile of the nerve agent is degrading?

Nerve agents were discovered through pesticide research. They belong to a group of substances known as organophosphorus chemicals, or “OPs” for short. There are literally thousands of OP substances, many of which can damage the body by inhibiting a family of enzymes known as “cholinesterases” that are critical to regulating the activity of the central nervous system in animals.

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