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Pitt Researchers Receive $2.7 Million to Develop Drug That Counters Radiation Exposure ​

PITTSBURGH, October 29, 2008 — Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have been awarded $2.7 million from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to develop a radiation mitigator drug that could counter the effects of radiation exposure in case of large-scale public exposure. The ultimate goal of the contract is to develop an easily administered drug that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Department of Health and Human Services (http://www.cdc.gov/ ) can store and fly to hospitals and care facilities if and when an emergency occurs.

A team of researchers led by Joel Greenberger, M.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, will develop the GS- nitroxide drug JP4-039, identified by the Pitt research team in 2004 as a radioprotector. Using both mouse model and human cell and tissue research, they have shown that the drug, when delivered 24 hours after irradiation, enhances cell recovery.

According to Dr. Greenberger, JP4-039 can be delivered directly to the mitochondria, the energy-producing areas of all cells. When this occurs, the drug assists the mitochondria in combating irradiation-induced cell death.

“Currently, no drugs on the market counteract the effects of radiation exposure,” said Dr. Greenberger, whose lab is part of the university’s Center for Medical Countermeasures. “We know this drug can counteract the damage caused by irradiation, but what we need to develop is the ideal dosage, one that is effective for the general population while remaining non-toxic. Our goal is to take this drug through a phase I clinical trial and, once the dosage is established, develop the drug for late-stage clinical trials and market licensing.”

Dr. Greenberger and his team received $2.7 million of the contract dollars, with the options for further funding up to $9.8 million over the next three years.

In complementary research, Louis D. Falo Jr., M.D., Ph.D., professor and chairman of the Pitt Department of Dermatology, and his team received a $1 million research grant from Project BioShield, funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and HHS, to develop a topical way to administer the drug quickly and easily to a large patient population.

“Our challenge is to develop a next-generation topical delivery strategy that will enable the drug to protect the skin and, at the same time, use the skin as a depot for drug delivery throughout the entire body,” said Dr. Falo. “Our goal is to accomplish this with a cream or patch that is inexpensive to produce and store and simple enough to be self-administered. If we can accomplish this, the technology likely will be applicable to a broad range of drug delivery applications.”

Co-investigators at the University of Pittsburgh include Michael W. Epperly, Ph.D., Peter Wipf, Ph.D., Valerian Kagan, Ph.D., Rhonda Brand, Ph.D., Julie Goff, M.S., Hong Wang, Ph.D., Julie Glowacki, Ph.D., Merrill Egorin, Ph.D., and Theresa Whiteside, Ph.D.

The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is one of the nation’s leading medical schools, renowned for its curriculum that emphasizes both the science and humanity of medicine and its remarkable growth in National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant support, which has more than doubled since 1998. For fiscal year 2006, the university ranked sixth out of more than 3,000 entities receiving NIH support with respect to the research grants awarded to its faculty.

As one of the university’s six Schools of the Health Sciences, the School of Medicine is the academic partner to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Their combined mission is to train tomorrow’s health care specialists and biomedical scientists, engage in groundbreaking research that will advance understanding of the causes and treatments of disease and participate in the delivery of outstanding patient care.

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