(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is boosting its ability to respond to a radiological or nuclear emergency.
Orders placed on Thursday under Project BioShield will increase the national stockpile of leukocyte growth factors, a treatment for acute radiation syndrome. HHS said it awarded a $36.5 million contract to Sanofi-Aventis of Bridgewater, N.J., for development and procurement of a leukocyte growth factor called Leukine, and a $57.5 million contract to Amgen USA Inc. of Thousand Oaks, Calif., to purchase the leukocyte growth factor called Neupogen.
Although there is no FDA-approved treatment for acute radiation syndrome, HHS says leukocyte growth factors "potentially could be used after a radiological or nuclear attack with emergency use authorization from FDA."
This is the first time under Project Bioshield that commercially available products are being purchased to potentially save the lives of survivors exposed to high doses of radiation following a radiological or nuclear emergency.
Project BioShield is the chief mechanism through which the U.S. government supports the advanced development and procurement of new medical countermeasures – drugs, vaccines, diagnostics, and medical supplies – to protect health against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.
“Today’s agreements are a prime example how Project BioShield can be leveraged to bring our nation the medical countermeasures we need to face threats from chemical, biological or radiological emergencies,” said Robin Robinson, director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which manages Project Bioshield.
Leukocyte growth factors stimulate bone marrow to produce infection-fighting white blood cells known as neutrophils. Leukocyte growth factors are currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use by cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy to speed white blood cell recovery and reduce the risk of infection.
Acute radiation syndrome is a serious illness that happens when people are exposed to high doses of radiation. The condition involves injuries to the body’s organs, including the bone marrow, gastrointestinal tract, and lungs.
HHS said the leukocyte growth factors will remain in the possession of the manufacturers in vendor-managed inventory -- "until they are needed." The companies will rotate the stock to meet commercial demand and prevent the growth factors from expiring.
Also this week, on Wednesday, HHS awarded a $60-million contract to Meridian Medical Technologies Inc. of Columbia, Md., a Pfizer company, to conduct studies on a treatment for seizures caused by nerve gas.
The drug Midazolam is currently used as a pre-operative sedative for adults and children. Meridian will seek FDA approval to use it for the treatment of seizures caused by nerve agents.
Project Bioshield, announced by President Bush in his State of the Union address on January 28, 2003, was proposed to accelerate the process of research, development, purchase, and availability of effective countermeasures against agents of bioterror.