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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

News Release

HHS News U.S. Department of Health and Human Services  
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343

HHS explores new disaster use of approved ‘clot busting’ drug

Drug shows promise as potential lifesaver in mustard gas attack

A clot-busting drug that already has been approved for use in treating strokes and heart attacks could find a new use as a lifesaving treatment for inhaled sulfur mustard under a development contract between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) and the University of Colorado – Pediatric Airway Research Center of Denver, Colorado.

Sulfur mustard, also known as mustard gas, has been used as a chemical warfare agent in conflicts over the past hundred years, and according to some reports, may have been used recently in Syria. Mustard exposure can cause serious damage to the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract, and can lead to death.

The 18-month, $4.9 million agreement is part of efforts by ASPR’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to develop medical products and procedures to protect health and save lives in a terrorist attack, including identifying new uses for commonly available medicines. The contract can be extended up to a total of $10.7 million over a five-year period.

“Chemical threats are of grave concern because of how quickly they can produce lethal injury,” said BARDA Director Dr. Robin Robinson. “That we may be able to adapt a drug that doctors have used for years in other settings to treat victims of mustard gas exposure testifies to the value of our repurposing efforts.”

Through this agreement, the university will design and conduct nonclinical tests of Genentech’s clot-busting drug Alteplase administered directly to the lungs via the airway as a treatment for acute respiratory distress resulting from inhaled sulfur mustard. 

In addition to Alteplase’s common use against strokes, heart attacks, and blood clots, doctors at the University of Colorado’s Pediatric Airway Research Center successfully used airway-delivered Alteplase to treat plastic bronchitis, a severe respiratory issue some children experience after surgery to repair congenital heart defects or as a rare result of allergies or infection.

For chemical threats, BARDA’s advanced research and development program focuses on developing drugs, products, and procedures that can reduce the effects of chemical injury, particularly products that are effective after people are exposed to a chemical threat agent.

This new project is part of BARDA’s integrated portfolio approach to the advanced research and development, innovation, acquisition, and manufacturing of medical countermeasures – vaccines, drugs, therapeutics, diagnostic tools, and non-pharmaceutical products for public health emergency threats. These threats include chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) agents, pandemic influenza, and emerging infectious diseases.

HHS enhances and protects the health and well-being of all Americans by providing for effective health and human services and fostering advances in medicine, public health, and social services. ASPR leads HHS in preparing the nation to respond to and recover from adverse health effects of emergencies, supporting communities’ ability to withstand adversity, strengthening health and response systems, and enhancing national health security.

To learn more about preparedness, response and recovery from the health impacts of disasters, visit the HHS public health and medical emergency website, For more information about advanced research and development of medical countermeasures, visit

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  • This page last reviewed: August 06, 2020