BARDA awards $5M to research gut-saving anti-radiation drugs

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | August 01, 2011
The U.S. government has awarded nearly $5 million in grants to two biotech firms developing anti-inflammatory drugs to treat nasty gut injuries caused by radiation poisoning.

Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, announced the awards Monday, doled out to companies trying to protect the gastrointestinal tract from acute radiation syndrome.

With these awards, Apogee Biotechnology Corporation, based in Hummelstown, Penn., gets a two-year, $2 million contract to study ABC294640. This anti-inflammatory drug, which can be taken orally and is being studied as a solid tumor-killer, apparently inhibits the enzyme sphingosine kinase.

Avaxia Biologics, based in Wayland, Mass., nabs a two-year, $2.9 million contract to look into AVX-470. Originally developed to treat inflammatory bowel disorders like Crohn's disease, it works by inhibiting the inflammation-producing effects of tumor necrosis factor, a protein.

BARDA wants to see if these drugs are effective up to 24 hours after administration -- an important feature, as the rationale behind the grants is to develop countermeasures that could be used after some catastrophe, such as a nuclear bomb detonation or power plant accident. At such time, rescuers probably couldn't reach survivors for hours, if not days, after the radiation exposure had begun.

Previously, BARDA has given out grants to companies researching countermeasures for other effects from radiation poisoning. In June, the agency gave Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Humanetics a $3.5 million grant to further develop a drug derived from soy and designed to protect people's lungs from ARS injuries.

It has also funded studies on CBLB502, or Protectan, a drug to prevent destruction of blood cell-producing bone marrow that's being developed by Buffalo, N.Y.-based Cleveland BioLabs. However, in May, BARDA said it needs Cleveland to clarify some aspects of the drug's development path and a get a green light from the Food and Drug Administration before it continues the contract negotiation process.

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