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First drug approved by FDA to treat radiation sickness

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
FDA approves first ever drug for radiation sickness

The FDA has approved the first drug to treat radiation exposure in the event of a nuclear disaster. Approval of Neupogen®, is the result of research performed by scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM) that showed the drug counteracts the effects of radiation to protect blood cells from destruction brought about by radiation that attacks bone marrow.


The study was carried out by Thomas J. MacVittie, PhD, professor, and Ann M. Farese, MA, MS, assistant professor of medicine in the UM SOM department of Radiation Oncology's Division of Translational Radiation Sciences.

Dr. MacVittie said in a press release the approval "...is a significant advancement, because the drug can now be used as a safe and effective treatment for the blood cell effects of severe radiation poisoning."

Neupogen is manufactured by the drug company Amgen, Inc and has been used to treat cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. that can destroy healthy blood cells.

The drug was stockpiled by he Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services in 2013 to be used in the event of a nuclear attack or mishap.

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MacVittie and her team have been researching radiation for 40 years in an effort to find way to protect patients from the harmful effects of treatments that can also be life-saving.

Several clinical applications of radiation therapy that are used to treat cancer include:

  • Proton therapy that delivers radiation beams directly to cancerous tumors while minimizing harm to surround tissues.
  • Internal Radiation Therapy that destroys or shrinks tumors that cannot be removed with surgery.
  • Thermal therapies that treat a variety of cancers.
  • A new, noninvasive technique for treating breast cancer early, known as Gammapod.

"In terms of both research and treatment, our department is leading the way in developing the most effective discovery-based clinical applications to help protect and heal patients," says William F. Regine, MD, professor and Isadore & Fannie Schneider Foxman Endowed Chair in Radiation Oncology at the UM SOM.

FDA approval of Neupogen® follows testing on non-human clinical models of high dose radiation that the FDA agreed were well-controlled and adequate for showing the drug would benefit humans in the event of a nuclear disaster.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons