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Biotech firm gets $3M to develop drug for radiation injury

Ping Wang, chief scientific officer of the Feinstein

Ping Wang, chief scientific officer of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research and founder of TheraSource LLC, a Manhasset-based biotech spinoff of the institute, on May 13, 2016. Credit: Uli Seit

TheraSource LLC, a Manhasset-based biotech spinoff of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, has won a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a treatment for radiation poisoning.

The three-year grant gives TheraSource the funding necessary to test dosage response, before filing an Investigational New Drug application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“One of our missions at the Feinstein Institute is to transition our lab discoveries onto the path of commercialization,” Kevin J. Tracey, president and chief executive of the Feinstein Institute, said in a statement.

The effects of acute radiation syndrome — caused by a high dose of penetrating radiation in a short time period, such as from a power plant failure or the detonation of a “dirty bomb” — on the gastrointestinal system are often fatal, resulting in death within two weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

TheraSource plans to use human ghrelin — a small protein found in the stomach lining — as the basis for a treatment to target those potentially fatal effects.

“I really hope this treatment will never be used, but it’s important to have,” said Ping Wang, the company’s founder and chief scientific officer of the Feinstein Institute, the research arm of health care giant Northwell Health.

While treatments exist to manage the effect of radiation poisoning on other bodily systems, there is “an urgent need for countermeasures against the lethality caused by intestinal exposure,” said Carmen Rios, program officer for the Radiation Nuclear Countermeasures Program of NIH.

In preclinical testing, TheraSource’s treatment has been administered to mice through injection over a six-day regimen.

TheraSource hopes to sell the treatment to the U.S. government in case of future national emergencies, Wang said. “We just hope this is insurance.”

He said that under ideal conditions, a treatment could receive FDA approval in seven years, and would take at least an additional $50 million in funding. The company has been working on it for eight years, he said.

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