HHS continues on controversial anti-radiation purchasing path, raising the ire of critics

Published 14 February 2006

The Health and Human Services Department (HHS) said Monday it would buy more than 400,000 doses of an anti-radiation drug for nearly $22 million. Buffalo Grove, Illinois-based Akorn will sell HHS 390,000 doses of a calcium-based compound and 60,000 doses of a zinc-based solution, which together work to cleanse some types of radiation from the bodies of those who have been exposed. The five-year contract has an option for HHS to buy an additional 500,000 doses of each drug.

Akorn is, in fact, the American distributor of German manufacturer Hameln Pharmaceuticals, which makes the Ca-DTPA and Zn-DTPA products. The two drugs have already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The deal is part of Project Bioshield, a $5.6 billion program aiming to encourage pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to do the R&D and production of bioterror-related vaccines and medications.

As we reported a couple of months ago, the radiation aspect of BioShield has come under ever more intense criticism by experts and industry insiders. A major goal of BioShield is the treatment of acute radiation syndrome (ARS), but Ca-DTPA and Zn-DTPA would not do it. The two drugs will not address ARS symptoms such as neutropenia (depletion of the body’s infection-fighting white blood cells), and they also would also not treat radiation from sources other than plutonium, americium, and curium. A year ago HHS bought 1.7 million pediatric doses of liquid potassium iodide, medication which prevents the thyroid gland from absorbing too much radioactive iodine but which does not prevent the effects of other radioactive elements. Note that Akorn will deliver more than 400,000 doses, but the ARS solicitation requests only 100,000 doses, with a possibility for an additional 100,000.

Robert Marsella, senior vice president of San Diego-based Hollis-Eden Pharmaceuticals, a persistent and eloquent critic of the HHS anti-radiation approach said: “The dosing amount [of the Akorn contract] was surprising due to the fact the product has to be delivered the first day of radiation exposure and has to be given intravenously …. And it’s specific to a particular radiation isotope that is not used in all nuclear weapons, so that’s what’s so surprising.”

-read more in this Zack Phillips’s CQ report (sub. req.); read more about the two drugs at Akorn Web site; and see the ARS section of Hollis-Eden Web site