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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

News Release

October 6, 2017
HHS Press Office: (202) 690-6343
Twitter @HHSMedia

HHS pursues therapeutic for radiation injury affecting blood platelets

Product development may address aspect of national preparedness against nuclear threats

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) today announced a partnership with Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation of East Hanover, New Jersey, to determine whether a product for treating patients suffering from thrombocytopenia could be used to better protect people in the event of a nuclear incident.

Thrombocytopenia is a drop in circulating blood platelets and can occur when doses of radiation cause myelosuppression, a decrease in bone marrow activity.

The four-year, $24 million contract with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a component of ASPR, and Novartis supports the development of Promacta (eltrombopag).

“To help save lives following a nuclear incident, we need countermeasures for the injuries resulting from exposures to high levels of radiation,” explained BARDA Director Rick Bright, Ph.D. “The ability to treat thrombocytopenia resulting from acute radiation exposure will address a critical gap in treatment for survivors of a nuclear detonation.”

The drug currently is approved for use to treat low blood platelet counts due to chronic immune thrombocytopenia, which is an autoimmune disorder where the body targets its own platelets for destruction. The drug acts on bone marrow progenitors to spur production of increased platelets.

Studies funded through the contract with BARDA will determine whether eltrombopag could be a useful countermeasure by restoring platelet levels post-irradiation, reducing the risk of bleeding, and enhancing survival following acute radiation exposures.

Radiation exposures cause injury to the body’s organs, including the bone marrow, gastrointestinal tract, brain, and lungs, and can cause neutropenia, which is a drop in white blood cells, and thrombocytopenia. The decrease in circulating platelets from thrombocytopenia in the days following irradiation may lead to hemorrhage and organ failure. To date, there are no products licensed to treat thrombocytopenia resulting from acute exposure to radiation.

As part of national biodefense preparedness, BARDA has prioritized advanced development and procurement of therapies for injuries from CBRN threats, including exposure to high doses of radiation.

This work is part of BARDA’s comprehensive, integrated portfolio approach to the advanced research and development, innovation, acquisition, and manufacturing of vaccines, drugs, therapeutics, diagnostic tools, and non-pharmaceutical products for public health emergency threats. In addition to radiological and nuclear agents, these threats include chemical and biological terrorism threats, pandemic influenza, and emerging infectious diseases.

HHS is the principal federal agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves. 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 ASPR and preparedness, response and recovery from the health impacts of disasters, visit the HHS public health and medical emergency website, Contract opportunities and awards are announced at


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  • This page last reviewed: June 05, 2018