Since the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power station, people around the world have been stockpiling potassium iodide (KI)… but those provide little protection against the harmful effects of high-dose radiation toxicity.
Luckily, experimental products that combat ‘acute radiation syndrome’ (ARS) have already been tested in people and could be on the cusp of market approval, Nature Medicine reports.
Nearly a quarter-million KI doses (pictured) have been amassed by evacuation centers near the site. But while those guard against the long-term risks of thyroid cancer linked with chronic radiation exposure, they do little for plant workers and emergency personnel in the event of a meltdown.
There is currently no approved treatment for ARS, the extreme radiation sickness associated with exposure to high doses of ionizing radiation over a short period of time. (Chernobyl caused 134 confirmed cases of ARS, almost one-third of the reported incidences worldwide.)
If any workers at Fukushima are diagnosed with ARS, their treatment options are limited to antibiotics, blood transfusions, and fluid supplements to deal with the symptoms of the disease. Doctors also sometimes administer cancer drugs to help the immune system rebound.
Now, however, several small biotech companies are racing to develop the first approved therapy for ARS, using biologics and small molecules to halt radiation’s harmful effects in the field. Some block cell death and protect damaged tissue exposed to radiation; others replace cells lost to exposure.
All of these drugs are being developed under the FDA’s ‘animal rule,’ which requires extensive efficacy data in animal models, but only demands safety testing in people.
In 2004, Congress passed the Project BioShield Act, and the Pandemic and All-Hazard Preparedness Act (signed into law 2 years later) allotted billions of dollars in funding for research into medical countermeasures to be used in the case of nuclear, chemical, and biological attacks. These government awards include more than $500 million for the treatment and prevention of ARS.
Since many of these drugs have already passed human safety testing, they could be on the market before the next nuclear catastrophe strikes.
Via Nature Medicine.
Image: potassium iodide tablets / Wiki
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com