Nearly $800 million in federal contracts awarded over 12 years have helped Los Angeles-area biotechnology firms take a lead on developing medical countermeasures for the government to use against a nuclear or radiological attack.

Now comes commercialization.

“We’re always looking to support products that not only support the U.S. government requirement, but the commercial market,” said Gary Disbrow, deputy director for Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA. “There’s a lot of innovation and great technology in the Los Angeles area.”

BARDA is an agency that’s part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, charged with protecting the U.S. against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats. It funds the development of new drugs, devices and tests, while also stockpiling approved treatments in the event of an attack or other event.

Local ties

A core of local companies and research centers have been putting the federal funds toward the development of diagnostics, medical devices and treatments for radiation.

Several have also made the turn toward the commercial market.

DxTerity Diagnostics Inc. of Rancho Dominguez signed a $150 million contract to develop its REDI-Dx blood test – which estimates radiation doses – and to stockpile some 400,000 of the tests.

“If a bomb has gone off in a major city, and there were survivors, you would need to triage them,” said Robert Terbrueggen, chief executive and founder of the DxTerity, which started. “We think the total world market is about two times the U.S. market, or $300 million.”

But there are often non-national defense uses for these tests, Terbrueggen said, noting that the gene-based test, which was approved in Europe last month and slated for U.S. approval next year, can also help diagnose autoimmune diseases such as lupus, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

“The auto-immune monitoring market is in the billions,” Terbrueggen said.

The largest BARDA contract in Los Angeles County went to Neumedicines Inc. of Pasadena – a $273

million deal to develop a molecular treatment for radiation sickness that can destroy vital bone marrow cells.

Its HemaMax drug is slated for federal approval for emergency use in two weeks, and full approval could come as soon as 2020, executives said.

The drug also is in a final trial for wound healing, diabetic foot ulcers and age-related macular degeneration.

Neumedicines Chief Executive Lena Basile, who founded the USC spin-off in 2003, said the BARDA funds were integral in developing HemaMax.


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