HHS Invests in Tech to Reduce Zika Risk

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New investments in pathogen reduction devices may help reduce the risk of transmitting Zika via blood transfusions. The Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) will help advance the development of two such reduction technologies.

The ASPR was created after Hurricane Katrina to lead the nation in preventing, preparing for, and responding to the adverse health effects of public health emergencies and disasters–such as the Zika virus.

The ASPR’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) is funding the development of these technologies as part of its ongoing effort to advance new medical products to protect the nation from emerging infectious diseases.

The first device, the INTERCEPT system, comes from Cerus Corp. of Concord, Calif.  A three year, $30.8 million contract will drive clinical trials of the system. This contract also supports an evaluation of safety for Puerto Rico’s blood system, which is currently supporting Zika virus outbreak response.

The INTERCEPT blood system is designed to reduce the risk of transfusion-transmitted infections by inactivating pathogens present in the blood via nucleic acid targeting. The system is currently used for platelets and plasma, and the HHS funding will help develop its capabilities for red blood cells.

The second device, Mirasol system, is a product of Terumo BCT Technologies in Lakewood, Colo.  This 2.5-year, $17.5 million contract will help confirm Mirasol’s abilities to reduce platelet infection.  Currently, Mirasol can eliminate viruses, bacteria, and parasites from white blood cells using riboflavin (vitamin B2) and ultraviolet light.

Both systems have already shown the ability to reduce bacteria, viruses, and parasites in blood components, but these continued clinical trials will expand and continually confirm that ability across white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets, and plasma.

“We are working to make needed products available as quickly as possible to protect our nation’s blood supply against a variety of threats that could endanger public health,” said Richard Hatchett, acting director of BARDA. “These technologies are of particular interest given their potential use against multiple diseases. By focusing on products that can reduce the risk of various transfusion-transmitted infections, we can provide emergency products sooner in a sustainable, cost-effective way.”

Current safety measures on blood products include preliminary screening of blood donors, maintaining deferred donor lists, taking an initial sample of the collection for testing, and quarantine of blood products until safety is established.

Because most people infected with the Zika virus don’t show any symptoms, blood donors may not know they have been infected before giving blood. Thus, being able to eliminate any possible Zika virus from donated blood prior to transfusion is critical.

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