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Patent attorney David Maher is joining the battle against the date rape drug GHB. Maher, an associate in Bingham McCutchen’s East Palo Alto, Calif., office, wrote the patent on a test to detect the presence of the drug. Researchers at University of California-Santa Barbara developed the test, which changes a strip of paper from white to intense purple in a few seconds in the presence of GHB. “It’s similar to what is used in a pregnancy test,” said Maher, who noted that until now, there hasn’t been an effective way to detect GHB. Maher said other tests on the market aren’t very sensitive, requiring large quantities of the drug to be present. The university’s test uses a bacterial enzyme that is so sensitive it can detect GHB in one quarter of a drop of urine, blood or an alcoholic drink. It is designed for use by emergency room physicians and law enforcement officers, as well as individuals in a social setting like a bar. A small dose of GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) produces a euphoric or hallucinatory state and can render a person unconscious within five to 10 minutes. Marketed in the early 1990s as a dietary supplement for bodybuilding and other uses, the drug is widely used in the sexual assault of women. An entrepreneur in Santa Barbara was moved by a news report of a local date rape case and asked a friend of his at UC-Santa Barbara to develop an assay to detect the drug. The head of the school’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry took the project pro bono a few years ago. The university is now talking to companies interested in licensing the test. Maher, who has prosecuted several patents for the university, worked with the researchers as they were in the final stages of developing the assay. While the patent application involved routine invention disclosures, Maher said it has special value. “It’s one of these projects you get once in a while that’s beneficial to society,” said Maher. “It has social implications above and beyond the standard invention.”

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